NACCHO NDIS News Alert : Indigenous disability advocates speak about the NDIS

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“A lot of our communities don’t acknowledge the word disability, so getting to the next step of having an assessment for themselves or a child is a huge step, so they’re not accessing services,”

“When you look at our kids in school and our kids in the justice system, these behaviours and this inability to fit in with community impact on their lifestyles, and life looks very different for them.”

We’ve got to have hope, if we don’t have hope we don’t have much of a future, it’s only got to be better for us.”

Robyn Smith is a regional coordinator with National Disability Services

PHOTO :Steve Widders, Liza Geddes and Robyn Smith stand together at the ACT Now 3 conference ABC Coffs Coast, Liz Keen

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Indigenous people from throughout northern New South Wales have come together to discuss accessing disability services .

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, Indigenous Australians are 1.7 times more likely to have a disability, although Indigenous disability workers say, because they are less likely to access health care, the real figures are probably much higher.

This week, Aboriginal disability support services and Aboriginal people with disabilities have been meeting in Coffs Harbour to prepare for the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which will land on the North Coast in July 2017.

The gathering, All Communities Coming Together Now, is a the third in a series of joint Indigenous services events that have brought together 340 people with disabilities and service providers from Kempsey to the Tweed.

One of the event organisers, Liza Geddes, works with Indigenous people with physical and intellectual disabilities, and she said the event was trying to address the fact that the uptake of the NDIS by Indigenous people in the launch sites was low.

A lot of our communities don’t acknowledge the word disability, so getting to the next step of having an assessment for themselves or a child is a huge step.

Ms Geddes said the rates of disability were higher among Indigenous communities because of the trauma from colonisation that has lead to mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and in turn disadvantage.

“That disadvantage takes a lifecycle of its own, and is repeated generationally and inter-generationally,” she said.

Robyn Smith is a regional coordinator with National Disability Services and she said, from her personal experience, the Aboriginal community around her was still damaged from stolen generations and other past injustices, and because of that she believed the gap was getting bigger, not smaller.

“From my own personal experience we are a long way from that healing moving forward, we are disjointed and fragmented in a lot of ways, but we do have a long way to go and we need a lot of understanding and a lot of empathy from the broader community as well,” she said.

Ms Geddes hoped the NDIS could help break the ongoing cycle of disadvantage.

“The NDIS could be a service system that supports the community to have control, which might bring some redress to that long-term disadvantage,” she said.

“We’ve got to have hope, if we don’t have hope we don’t have much of a future, it’s only got to be better for us.”

Steve Widders is an Aboriginal man who is legally blind and an advocate and a supporter of new initiatives for people who live with disabilities, and he said the NDIS brought hope.

“I think the NDIS is a great vehicle, not only for the Aboriginal people to put their hands up but more for people with disabilities to stand up, to be counted, and to participate,” he said.

“That’s where a good community comes from, from more people participating.”

Hidden rates of disability

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that while across all ages, Indigenous people are 1.7 times more likely to have a disability, that is worse for Indigenous children who are 2.5 times more likely to have a disability.

Ms Smith said those statistics were in themselves alarming, but in reality there were probably many more people with a disability in Indigenous communities, because they are not accessing health services and also many disabilities in Indigenous communities were not obvious.

“A lot of our communities don’t acknowledge the word disability, so getting to the next step of having an assessment for themselves or a child is a huge step, so they’re not accessing services,” she said.

“When you look at our kids in school and our kids in the justice system, these behaviours and this inability to fit in with community impact on their lifestyles, and life looks very different for them.”

Mr Widders agreed that many people in Aboriginal communities were living with undiagnosed disability.

The best part of Aboriginal communities and disability is they are all-inclusive, they don’t exclude people as non-Aboriginal communities do for having a disability.

Liza Geddes, disability support worker

“People don’t see themselves as disabled and they aren’t regarded as disabled by their families, they just see it as their responsibility to look after them,” he said.

This care of communities for people with a disability might mean fewer people are accessing healthcare, but people like Liza Geddes say it is also a great strength for the communities.

“The best part of Aboriginal communities and disability is they are all-inclusive, they don’t exclude people as non-Aboriginal communities do for having a disability,” she said.

While Robyn Smith was disappointed by how often she saw discrimination in our society, she also said she believed we could see a change for Indigenous people.

“We’ve got to have hope, if we don’t have hope we don’t have much of a future, it’s only got to be better for us.”

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