Disability advocates working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

This was the first session at the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum held at St Michael’s Hall on 9 July 2019.



Grampians DisAbility Advocacy (GDA) and Rights Information Advocacy Centre (RIAC), both received project funding through the Disability Advocacy Innovation Grants round.  Over the past 2 years these organisations have engage with, and facilitated out reach, to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a disability and the communities they live in.   Lance Yousten (RIAC) and Deb Verdon (GDA)  present the outcomes and learnings of their work. The challenges presented by NDIA/Indigenous understandings of disability and associated issues, will also be discussed and reference Culture is Inclusion, produced by First People’s Disability Network.



Scroll down to the end of this post for links to resources mentioned in this presentation.


Transcript & Audio


So our first session today is Disability Advocates Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities.  These two really special people from Grampians Disability Advocacy and Rights Information Advocacy Centre have both had project to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community and work out how to best support people with disabilities in those communities funded by the Disability Advocacy Innovation Fund.

We will hear today about how their project has gone and I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am to learn what they’ve found.  Welcome to Lance Yousten and Deb Verdon.

Thanks Melissa and Daru for inviting Grampians Advocacy to be part of today’s presentations and hello everyone.  It’s great to be with you especially during NAIDOC week talking about this topic.

Grampians Disability Advocacy acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community.  We pay our respects to them and their cultures and to elders past, present and emerging.  We particularly pay our respects to the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on today, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation and Aboriginal Elders of any other communities who may be here with us.

I’m here to talk about the Wimmera Indigenous Advocacy Project, and this has been funded by the Victorian Government Disability Advocacy Innovation Fund over the past two years so from 2017 till now.  I’d like to start with a little bit of background about the Wimmera.

The Wimmera region covers 42,000 square kilometres in the West of Victoria and has a population of about 55,000.  It boasts the little desert, the Mallei Foul, searing hot days, frosty winter mornings, breathtaking sunsets, the silo art trail, and a range of diverse communities.  Major cities and towns are Horsham, Warracknabeal and Nhill and some of you may have visited some of those places.

The only really practical way to get to the Wimmera is by car, especially if you have a disability.  V-Line is the public transport provider and provides a combination of train and coach with timetables subject to change at a moment’s notice.  Anyone here from a rural area will know exactly what I’m talking about, maybe even Melbourne people too at the moment.

By car from Melbourne it’s an hour and a half to Ballarat, then an hour on top of that to Ararat, then an hour and a quarter on top of that to Horsham then another hour to Nhill if you are going that far.  From Nhill it’s only another hour to South Australia.  You’re looking at a four to five hour road trip one way.  We’re talking a truly rural remote region.

I’m telling you this by way of explaining why we are a small contingent today.  It wasn’t possible for staff of the Goolum Goolum Coop or the elders group to attend in person but we do have a video to show you a little later on, featuring Auntie Elver Taylor.  Meantime due to the circumstances the community has said that it’s okay for me to speak on their behalf about our project.

Just to introduce those from GDA who are able to be here:  Fiona Tipping is our Indigenous advocate for Ballarat.  Fiona is a proud Palawan woman who is a member of the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Coop and has been providing advocacy at the Coop for eight years.  This is being done without any specific funding for this work, it’s come out of our recurrent funds.

Likewise our Wimmera advocacy Trudy Joyce who unfortunately can’t be here today has worked with Goolum Goolum Coop for five years prior to the grant funding.

Kim Wiese is a proud Gunditjmara woman from the South West Region of Victoria and our Indigenous advocate for the Wimmera.  She has joined our Horsham advocate Trudy Joyce in working with the elders group and the family services team at Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Coop in Horsham.

The Wimmera project funding has allowed GDA to concentrate its effort on forging a strong relationship with the coop and to employ an Aboriginal person as an advocate.

Today after all that GDA and RIAC and Lance is here from RIAC, have been invited to talk about how we’ve utilised the disability advocacy innovation grant to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a disability in our respective regions.

We’ve been asked to detail the outcomes and learnings of our work over the past two years.  To do this from GDA’s perspective I have to take you back just a little bit in time.  I want to give you a little bit of the background to GDA’s Indigenous Program, because the innovation grant and the work associated with it does not exist in a vacuum.  In fact it would’ve been difficult to achieve anything if it did.

GDA has been working on improving its engagement with Indigenous communities in our region since 2008.  In some ways the innovation funding was the culmination of a long-term effort to improve our relationships with community.  We knew there was an unmet need so we access additional funding to employ a project worker and we set about building relationships.

In 2010 we contracted researcher Joanne Richie to produce a ground breaking report titled Indigenous People with a Disability, Population Distribution and Service Use in the Grampians Region.  This is the first time anyone had brought together the data about the Grampians.  This helped us to further understand the task we were undertaking.

For instance, we learnt that there is no word in Aboriginal language for disability.  Another thing the research revealed was that the rate of disability among Indigenous people in the Grampians was about fifty percent as compared with twenty percent in the general population.  This point was also made by Scott Avery in his presentation Culture is Inclusion at DARU in February.

About eight years ago our advocate Fiona started attending the Ballarat Coop one day a week.  She didn’t see the need for an office or a meeting room.  Fiona’s advocacy began at the tearoom table on the busiest day of the week and has continued in this way ever since.  Other organisations are now adopting this method as the ideal way to build trust and form relationships.

We are grateful to BADAC CEO Karen Heap and the members and the staff who have welcomed GDA in community.  This was aided in no small part by the fact that Fiona has been formally recognised as one of the Ballarat mob.

That’s the background done and now it brings me to the point of talking about the Innovation Fund and engagement with community in the Wimmera.  Once again, it’s important to note that our work with Goolum Goolum Coop in Horsham did not begin with the innovation grant.  GDA Horsham advocate Trudy Joyce has been establishing connections with community for many years, before the grant became available.

The great advantage of the innovation grant was the significantly increased resources that allowed us to focus on consolidating and formalising our relationship with Goolum Goolum as well as employing and Indigenous person as an advocate.

Many people in this room have already been working with Indigenous communities without specific funding in the same way we did.  I apologise in advance for speaking about lessons you’ve probably already learnt.  We are by no means experts on this topic.  There’s lots of ways of getting to the same result and hopefully we will hear about some of those later.  We’re just happy to share our experiences as invited.

For those yet to embark on the joint journey of forming relationships with community there are a number of key points to keep in mind that we’ve discovered through our work.  While at the same time acknowledging that each community is different and it’s not a case of one-size fits all.  We have noticed enormous differences between the two coops where we work, which are at different ends at our region.  Yet there are also many commonalities.

Here we go in no particular order.  Firstly the coop is the central hub, it’s the place where all services come from.  It’s a trusted space and a safe meeting place.  It’s important to take the time to set up the mechanics of your relationship.  A memorandum of understanding, introductions to key people, elders, the CEO, board members and staff.   It’s important to have everyone’s support right from the start.

Tell people how your organisation can value add to the amazing work that’s already being done at the coop in really difficult circumstances.  Initially we talked about GDA’s knowledge of the NDIS as a way of demonstrating a particular area where we can help but there are others.  Consult with coop members about what advocacy should look like in their domain.

Also, it’s important to gain an understanding of the history of dispossession and oppression experienced by Indigenous people since wide colonisation.  Ask people about the history of the coop you’ll be working in and with.  Learn about the stolen generations.  If you don’t you may find it hard to relate to the hurt in the hearts of so many and the deep distrust of Government departments and authoritarian institutions.

Most importantly visit the first people’s disability network website and read Scott Avery’s book Culture is Inclusion to gain an understanding of the complexities of trans generational trauma and its effect on community.

Also, it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of listening.  Elders have explained to us that people are shy and often don’t speak their minds for a variety of reasons.  Be prepared to sit down for a while, listen, yarn, talk about whatever people want to talk about.  It helps to engage in an activity while talking.  Try and explain things simply and avoid jargon.  Dedicate the time to building trust and the respectful relationships will surely follow.

Be authentic.  Admit the things you don’t know.  Respectfully ask people about their experiences the things that are barriers for them.  Don’t assume you know what it’s like to be an Indigenous person if you aren’t one and don’t be afraid of making mistakes or saying the wrong thing.

Indigenous staff at Goolum Goolum have told us of the importance of being visible at the coop.  Just being around and making an effort to connect if you don’t already have connections with community.  Go to NAIDOC week and local celebrations.  At Goolum Goolum our advocates visit with the elders group one day a week, they share lunch do art or craft or just talk.  It’s in this context that issues that require advocacy are raised.  In short you just have to be there.  Relax, spend the time because tokenistic efforts are easily spotted.

Another thing is to acknowledge that Indigenous people have many complex issues  that affect their lives.  Family, health, disability, discussion, legal, education, employment and there are many many more.  Again, consult Scott Avery’s book for information about intersectionality.  Many calls for help are crisis driven and concern basic human rights like the right to housing and the right to family connection.

This is where it’s essential to work in conjunction with the coop so that the whole support team is working in the same direction.  There’s always a lot going on.  Don’t be surprised or offended if your advocacy program is not always front of mind for people in distress.  Just keep trying to engage and be there when people are ready.  A lack of contact for a while does not mean you are not needed.  As a result it’s often necessary to keep a case open longer than you normally would as people engage as they are able to.

After that rather long winded speech, I’ll just sum up to say it’s important to be prepared to do things differently in our experience.  Be led by community.  Be open to change.  Be flexible.  Be real.

Just a final comment on funding, is the Office for Disability here? The resources made available through the Innovation Fund have been invaluable in establishing a sustainable relationship with Goolum Goolum.  We have been able to employ an Indigenous person as an advocate which has meant a lot to the coop and it’s meant a lot to us.  But I do need to acknowledge that community engagement takes time and therefore a grant of any less than two years is not sufficient to get anything like the desired outcomes.

Of course the ideal model is recurrent funding for Indigenous advocacy but we’ll have to wait and see on that one.  Anyway, that’s enough from me.  I’d just like now to share with you all the voice of Aunty Elver.  It’s a short video featuring Aunty Elver Taylor responding to a series of questions about Indigenous advocacy as asked by our Wimmera advocate Trudy Joyce.  Our sincere thanks goes to Aunty Elver and Trudy for creating the video especially for today.

After RIAC’s presentation there will be time for questions and discussion so thank you very much.

LANCE YOUSTEN, Rights Information & Advocacy Centre (RIAC):
Hi everyone, is that working okay, awesome.  I think we will proceed to my part of the presentation while they’re sorting out the technical part of this, otherwise it leaves a gap.

Thanks Deb for sharing all your experiences.  I really noticed the similarities or the shared experiences I think in both organisations.  I apologise if there’s too much repetition because I think we come to pretty much the same kind of conclusions about working in this area as non-Aboriginal people.

Firstly, I’d like to also acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation and pay my respects to elders past present and emerging.  It is indeed an honour and privilege to present today on this country.

This week is of course NAIDOC week, it’s a very busy time for the community.   Like Deb, we invited the people we’ve been working with to come along today but they’re also very busy and engaged in other events.

We’ve been working with the Aboriginal communities in the Bendigo, Echuca and Geelong regions as part of the Innovation Fund, it’s recently been called the Partnership Project.  I really would like to thank our partners in Government for this opportunity to work in this area and I’m also really pleased that it’s finished and I will explain why.

This project is really important as Deb said to create the opportunity to do new work and to make new connections but at the same time the limitations of time lines, reporting, the whole construct of a project kind of has its end date.  I think working with the actual community is not a project, it’s part of our core business.

As you can imagine starting any new working relationship takes time.  Many new ideas or seeds are planted and they really take time to come to fruition.  With the projects now ending there’s new initiatives and events which are kind of planned and they will now be happening in the near future so without a project.  I think it’s really important to note that.

The focus of these projects has been for RIAC to walk alongside three Aboriginal community controlled health organisations in co-creating capacity in relation to the NDIS and the ability of the three coops to support their communities in this.  The people we’re working with are the Wathaurong in Geelong, the Njernda in Echuca and in Bendigo through BDAC with the Dja Dja Wurrung communities.

The way it was funded was a portion of the funds went to each of the coops and that allowed them to also employ a part time worker for the duration of the project.

Personally this has been really a dream job.  The unfinished business of treaty reconciliation healing, truth telling and holistic acknowledgement as countries first peoples is so critical not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but for all Australians as this journey is going to define who we are and how we live on this country.

I read, I have lots of information and news, books, articles and it’s really a useful necessary activity and occasionally sort of gets past my constructs and goes straight to here.  For someone like myself it’s quite cerebral this is when I really pay attention.

This first reading of the Uluru Statement of the Heart from May 17, is profound document of leadership and inspiration which invites us all to walk with and it’s in this walking or listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that presents such profound opportunities that has sold this country to both heal and grow.

That really made an impact on me because I was already working on this project and I think the culmination of the two really was personally great timing and it really sort of helped galvanise some of the work I’ve been involved in.

This idealism or passion for change is really good to motivate and is higher but it also has to be checked and put aside.  I think for all its good intentions history relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in this country is full of such well-meaning idealism and  change projects.  In other words how can you listen if the noise of your own dreaming fills the spaces.

That’s I think very important as Deb mentioned how do we actually really listen and not be sort of caught in our own constructs about how does this kind of work.

Something we realised was that this project had to be a shared capacity project.  That the learnings information exchange and organisational growth was required for all the partners to clear RIAC.  This I believe was really important for the outcomes and progress we had made because phrases like building capacity kind of almost they assume like a blank slate but a type of terranullius dare I say the word.

Rather than kind of building if you like we are exchanging unique capacity knowledge in a mutually beneficial way, it’s a two way exchange.  As Deb said again, one of the first learnings was that the word disability it’s meanings its implications it’s not inherent to first nations peoples.

Traditionally people perhaps named to their disability and they found a place, a role within a group.  The impact of 200 plus years of colonialization has damaged some of these cultural bonds.  Dispossession from country and kin has been the predominant result of colonialization.  This presents an actual and philosophical challenge for organisations and schemes which I meshed in a whole student of collection of meanings regarding the concept of disability.

This means there’s people who don’t identify as having disability, who may benefit from diagnosis and receiving some services such as the NDIS.  And I say may deliberately as our significant cultural implications for a scheme which is based on an individual and their goals, it may be totally appropriate for some participants who identify as Aboriginal but perhaps not for others and knowing this matters.  Having the conversations matters and this will take time and willingness of predominately non-Aboriginal organisations to incorporate these understandings into future service delivery.

There’s a recent call to have the disability  included in the close the gap targets.  We think this is an important one but it should also – if it is included we need to have a space or context for different understandings for disability to be included not just what we may assume disability is.

This is a global issue and it’s reflected in one of the conference statements from the Health and Wellbeing Conference of 2019 The Lowitja Institute International Indigenous which met in Darwin last month.  There is a quote from that conference statements at the end of the conference;

“First Nations people living with a disability want their voices heard and require space to sit, hear, share, reflect on issues that affect their wellbeing.  We require the resources, and good will to develop structures and networks that will connect with first nations living with  disability, community with researchers, services, and policy makers within values and cultures that promote their inclusion.”

This sort of links to what Deb mentioned before the work Scott Avery is doing with FPDN is very important research project which is ongoing.

Back to our project, I really believe that we’ve laid the foundations for an enduring partnership.  What’s it all like in practice?  What it means now is that many of the disability teams of the coops can pick up the phone or email and request our assistance for our review or an appeal in relation to the NDIS.

They can be comfortable in knowing we can give advice, work, brainstorm together and a participant can become a RIAC client.  Often now we are needed as the review system is well understood and now we are working to make sure this knowledge is more widely shared amongst the front line workers not just located in a small group of individuals.

I think as again Deb mentioned earlier, I think the personal is so important.  I think when for example, one of the workers from the coops rings RIAC they’re not ringing RIAC they’re ringing Rachel or Amanda or one of our advocates.  Those personal connections and trust is so vital and it’s both an important lesson and also something to be mindful as organisations, how we make sure we have as many people as possible in that trusting situation.

The three coops all now have good working relationships with their local area coordinators, have direct access to NDIA planners, managers and the people who are able to resolve issues and work on participant plan tweaking and reviews.

Now you expect this to be genuinely good practice and in a way self-evident.  Unfortunately this was not in place a few years ago.  As many of you here today know the roll out of the scheme has been problematic and fraught with complications, systemic and constructional flaws.

How has this happened:  well lots of meetings, discussions, personally lots of trips to Bendigo, Echuca to chat share ideas, to bring people into a room together to work out how to support the community.  Turning up to the communities are important, asking questions what do they need what do they want.  Listening, being patient.  Trust takes time.  Trust takes time.

We’ve also run training information sessions for staff, for the Doctors, the medical staff around the NDIS, the needs for evidence, how to write the various bits of paper they need.  We create templates to help guide staff through the processes, flyers, posters, using photos of Indigenous staff and language that engages with community.

There’s a collocating model which for example now sees the NDIS or LACs working out of the three coops on the regular basis.  This allows the actual community members to have these discussions and meetings in a culturally safe space where they are comfortable, more likely to seek support and assistance.

One of the core barriers to services for Indigenous people is often the thought of relating to the Government and the actual past negative experiences as previously mentioned.  Embedded as it is so sadly the impact of invasion, dispossession and cultural trauma.  Again, this area is well researched from Scott Avery and his work on the concept of apprehended discrimination is really important to understand working in this area.

The working relationships between the LACs, NDIS and the coops and indeed RIAC are overall now very positive, and very friendly.  RIAC and cooperative staff have worked out of their respective workplaces from time to time with some success in the sense of relationship and knowledge building and I believe we can do more in this area to move into the future.

Also I would like to acknowledge there has been improvements in how the NDIS approach working in this area.  Despite their internal challenges they’re engaging much better with Aboriginal communities with the ones I’ve worked with anyway and there seems to be a more focused approach that’s seen better plan outcomes and minimal need to utilise the formal AAT processes for review.

I really look forward to this continuing and for the NDIA to fully embody their own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island engagement strategy.  If you’re interested in working in this area it’s well worth a read and really holding them account to that document.

With regards to RAIC and our own learning journey we’ve made a great start and this will continue on past expiry of this project.  All our staff have undertaken cultural awareness training and we’re in the midst of I suppose cultural audit how we do – make our brochures and communications, everything we do more appropriate to actually community.

Our staff attend more actual cultural and community events, they feel more prepared to work on individual advocacy issues.  We are working on our reconciliation action plan and have established a working group within RIAC to guide this process.  Looking at a whole organisation approach to working in this area which I think in the past in my opinion wasn’t really there, it was in pockets I think.

Our small parts, we’re part of the overall systemic and cultural shift which is now happening.  We’ve had an Aboriginal advocacy manager in the Shepparton region prior to this funding and now have subsequently employed a new Aboriginal person in that area as well as another person with both worked and lived experience within other Aboriginal communities.

Now that the project has ceased each of the three people that were employed through this project, through the Aboriginal coops have all gone on to other work.  They’ve all become full time in other capacity which has been great for them personally and also help built that capacity within organisations.

The NAIDOC themes of voice, treaty, truth are being realised and we believe see a voice to Parliament, a number of treaties and some sort of truth telling on Macerata in the near future.  Our leaders will either lead us or be dragged along.  They will happen.  With this realisation I hope representatives of the NDIA when enacting NDIS Version 2 will sit down with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community will craft a scheme that’s both culturally appropriate and aspirational to their own vision.

RIAC has been fortunate to receive some of the Disability Futures Funding to continue our work in the Goulburn area where the NDIS was launched earlier this year.  This project is called Working With and is inspired by the Uluru statement.  Basically what I think we are really mindful of the things we’ve learnt from the current projects and we will use that and learning to work in that area with that community.

Now do you want to start hanging out those flyers?  I’d like to really hear some of your – after the video is played I thought it would be good to hear from the group here about your thoughts on some of these issues.  What Rachel is doing is handing out some flyers which have the Uluru statement on one side and a diagram on the other with some little prompts.

Perhaps with your peers near you we can have a chat after this video and we can have a chat after it’s been concluded.  A couple of minutes, about ten minute’s time.

One more thing before you start, I think it would be really good next year or another future time to really get I suppose a gathering of Indigenous and non-Indigenous advocates in a room to I suppose share experiences about working in the community in a longer format.

I think there’s so much to be discussed and shared and I think we really need to put the time and effort into doing that.  I would really make that call now and if anyone is interested please advocate for others as well.

I think even during NAIDOC week next year it would be a really good thing to do as well, to really build on this.  Thank you all for listening.  Enjoy the video.

Given the time limitations I thought we best move to the comments and questions part of this presentation.  This will be a free for all basically.  Put your hand up and our wonderful microphone people will get to you.  Any comments or questions are welcome based on what you’ve heard and what you’ve discussed.  We’ve got about six minutes.


Mary Sayers from Children and Young People with Disability Australia.  Just wondering in terms of the experience of Aboriginal children and young people and what you’ve learnt through your project about their access to the NDIS and understanding of the NDIS.

Thank you, unfortunately our experience in regards to children and young people has been pretty awful.  In fact most of the requests for assistance has been about helping families have their children accepted into the NDIS.

A lot of the problems, okay so the NDIS has got an Aboriginal engagement strategy which is good but the strategy seems to lack the implementation plan.  It’s acknowledged that special measures need to be put in place but I don’t see any evidence of that actually being translated into action.  Maybe it will come, hopefully.

A lot of the problem is with access to the scheme and a lot of the problem is especially in our area of remote rural is getting the required reports.  There are families where a particular one I’m thinking of where a child has such a complex disability and it’s quite clear that the family needs support from the NDIS but the carer, the mother can’t leave the house because of the level of the disability of the child.

How on earth is she supposed to get a paediatricians report, how is she supposed to even find a paediatrician in the Wimmera Region?  It’s just this cycle of nothing can happen because the NDIS is so stringent in what it requires.  That’s a very big headache for everybody concerned.  I think it’s a huge area where improvement needs to happen.  Do you think so?

Absolutely, there’s so much work to be done in this area.  I think what Deb said, I would add another compounding factor is the past experiences of the systems and children.  Understandably there is a lot of fear in communities I think from what I’ve been – people I have spoken with about this, about inviting or talking about their family situation with the past experience of the stolen generation and other such removals of children.

It’s a very fraught area for people and it’s going to take time.  Systemic advocacy from a massive scale from the whole sector and as Deb said the NDIA need to really be thinking about how do we make the scheme work for all Australians not just what in their mind, what the target market is for this scheme.

It’s totally different scheme, where the scheme is going to be needed to really make it work for the actual community I think.  I don’t know if you agree with that Deb.  I think we really need to be reminding them and advocating on that message.  I think trying to make the community fit the scheme is not going to work.  It can work partially for some people off course but not for everybody.

It is a massive area and I think there’s no short answer or short cuts.  This is just lots of work.  First of all within the system to really listen and actually do something different.  To pay attention and actually want to fix some of these systemic barriers.

I’m just interested in the longer term sustainability of this work.  It’s fantastic you’ve been able to invest time appropriately in these communities and you’ve only got limited grant funding I understand.  What’s been your approach about how you approach the future when either the funding dries up or some of these people get a job somewhere else and a particular champion has left and that can leave a gaping hole?

There is a few things there, I totally agree.  What we found at RIAC has really improved the capacity of our advocates and our whole organisation to incorporate this work into core work.  In the past I think it was a little left to specialists in Indigenous advocates.  We’re trying to move it to become everybody’s work.

That’s a way to mitigate some of that ending of project funding.  I think there’s no easy way, it’s again like I said before how do we as a collective ask for more resources.  I think over time it will become – these projects won’t be as needed.  I think at the moment they probably are.  What do you think Deb?

Yes, thanks for that.  I guess as far as sustainability goes, that’s always a problem with short term funding.  None of us like it.  None of us like the hours we have to spend writing submissions and meeting compliance requests.  However, that’s the nature of the beast.

I guess the short term funding is a way to show what you can achieve in a small amount of time and we need to lobby as a group about better ways to fund this type of work.

I think from our point of view the money the resources the funding has given us a chance to really cement our relationships with the coop.  Even while this particular funding round dries up the aim has been to have relationships that go on forever.  That gets back to the trust thing that we’ve talked about.

We hope that our engagement will continue obviously to the best of our ability with the limited resources we have.  That’s the harsh reality of it all.  The opportunity to spend two solid years really building relationships that can last is the benefit of this type of funding round.

Darryl Taylor, VMIAC.  I was really struck by your comments about dispossession and discrimination being the biggest disability that the communities face.  When you’ve got a program that’s focused on the individual and projects the need for self-advocacy, what is the NDIS 2.0 that includes that focus on systemic and structural advocacy and on the conditions of the context and the relationships, the culture and not just that focus on an isolated separate individual?

I think I get the gist of what you’re saying.  I think for me I don’t have the answers because I think the answer is in the conversation.  I think that’s a really critical thing to really get across.  I think for all of us working in this area Aboriginal self-determination is really critical.  It’s this Government to sit down and actually ask the community what they want, how will we deliver services, how will we help you and your families and your existing kinship and network of relationships to actually prosper with the right supports.

I think the individualised focus of the NDIA which looks at a person in isolation perhaps isn’t going to work for many people I think and it’s something we’ve been conscious of.  I was talking to our advocate in Shepparton the other day about this, how we engage with a person with a disability who is Aboriginal is first of all connect with the whole family.  To look at that person who has been embedded in a system of relations and how we actually work with that and support that first and foremost so therefore any intervention, anything we do is based on that relationship.

I think in summary I think it really is about as we said in both our presentations, is the willingness to listen, to hear.  Then to also put that into practice because I think the community from my mind has been talking for a long time about some of these issues and some of it is getting through and some of it is not.

I agree Lance and I think it’s worth remembering too that when the NDIS was devised First Peoples Disability Network CEO Damian Griffis who some of you may have met if you have met him, you will know what a great person he is, he was arguing for a kind of parallel NDIS for Indigenous communities.

His focus was on the very very remote areas of Australia but also would apply all over the nation.  He was saying the special needs are so immense that there needed to be a different way of going about things for our Indigenous first nation’s people.  Unfortunately his representations fell on deaf ears.  I’m not sure where he’s at with that in regards to our MPs now.  I think he was on the right track.

From what we’ve seen in our practical experience something definitely needs to change.  It is actually not working and the stats from the NDIS itself, shows that there’s not the take up that was hoped for and expected I suppose because you can’t just try and make people become something that will fit into your box.

There needs to be a change and it starts with the listening process.  If we can lobby, advocate, I don’t know do whatever we normally do by hassling people I suppose then that’s what we should be doing.

Thank you very much Lance and Deb.  It’s very clear from both your presentations we’ve got a long way to go.  That is a good way.  What I loved about both your presentations is how we need to learn to listen and learn to think outside the way we normally work and change it to fit who we’re talking to.  I think if you both continue the great work you’re doing we can go some way to achieving good outcomes for people.

Well done thank you very much.


Indigenous People with Disability report Culture is Inclusion by Scott Avery (off-site)Uluru Statement of the Heart (off-site)NDIS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy (off-site)GDA slideshow presentation

Date published:
Tue 9th Jul, 2019