Representatives at the roundtable discussion expressed a number of views on the vision for advocacy in the NDIS environment. The central themes of this discussion are captured below.
People with disability have the right to effective disability advocacy
While items 7 and 8 in the introduction section of the Framework state that people with disability are the target group of the Framework, and that they can experience additional disadvantage, there is no mention that people with disability have a right to advocacy. Organisations believed that item 11 in the objectives section should be strengthened to state that people with disability have the right to effective disability advocacy, rather than simply stating that people with a disability have access to it.
The value of advocacy needs to be recognised
Other forms of advocacy such as legal and representational advocacy are much better understood, and as a result have a greater profile in the community. It is important that governments, through the Framework, and by the funding of disability advocacy, recognise its value.
Advocacy empowers and protects people with disability
Individual disability advocacy is about empowerment and information provision, assisting with complaints and informing people about their rights. It can take a simple form such as assisting a person to complete an application for a service or helping them to communicate their need, through to lodging a human rights or disability discrimination complaint.
Advocacy helps to identify systemic issues and inform government policy
Disability advocacy is not only about assisting people with disability to seek justice, it helps identify problems so people can advocate for change at an individual or systemic level. When systemic issues, which create barriers to access and inclusion for people with disability, are identified and addressed, the whole community benefits.
Roundtable participants believed that disability advocacy not only empowers and protects people with disability, but informs and strengthens the development of government policy. Disability advocates are not limited to adversarial confrontation. Disability advocacy can work in partnership, and play a complementary role with all levels of government.
Disability advocacy must be funded outside of the NDIS
Disability advocacy is a necessary service which can ideally be funded outside of the NDIS. Otherwise, there will always be a gap between people who can afford to pay for advocacy and those who cannot. There is also very little community understanding of what is involved in disability advocacy, and as a result, people are less likely to know what it is and to ask for it.
The NDIS will impact on the range of disability advocacy issues
Roundtable participants believed that the principles and nature of disability advocacy will not change in an NDIS environment. However, the NDIS will impact on the range of issues for which people will seek and require disability advocacy. People with disability will not only require advocacy support to navigate the NDIS, but once they are in receipt of a package of support, they will need advocacy to assist in preparing for the NDIS planning process, knowing that they are entitled to apply for it, and understanding what their entitlements, and rights are under the NDIS, not to mention needing support through an internal or external complaints mechanism process.
Once their NDIS supports are in place, people with disability will meet the next set of barriers in life. They will encounter barriers such as access to mainstream systems and support, access to the built environment, public transport, education and employment, and most significantly, access to information and communications systems.
Outreach services are required to ensure that all people with disability are able to access advocacy
One disability advocacy organisation reported that less than 35 per cent of their clients have access to the internet or telecommunications. This combined with the need to use augmentative and assistive communication technology often means that people with complex communication needs will benefit from, and indeed require, outreach services in order to gain information about their rights and entitlements.
There is a continued need for advocacy support outside of the NDIS
There will also be many people who will not be eligible for NDIS. They will require disability advocacy to achieve their access and support needs from other systems.
This argument is supported in section 559 of the Victorian Ombudsman report, which states:
“The evidence of this investigation strongly suggests that the role of advocacy will need to be strengthened further with the introduction of the NDIS. While I support the guiding principles of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 (C’th) promoting equality, social inclusion and choice, the practical application of these principles in relation to people with cognitive impairment, limited communication or no informal supports must be highly questionable. Throughout my investigation, my officers and I have attended disability forums and taken extensive evidence from which it is clear that many people with disability have no family or friends in their lives, and often rely on the goodwill of paid staff or scheduled visits by Community Visitors for support.”
In addition, systemic advocacy outside the NDIS will still be required to ensure that children and young people with disability and their families maximise their role in the community. People with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds will still require advocacy support to know about their rights to access services, to learn that there are services available to them, how and where to seek support, and how to ask for what they want, need and are entitled to receive.