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Some Indigenous people afraid to seek help and those on NDIS plans not made aware of funding they can access, royal commission hears

(By Sarah Collard – Ther Guardian – July 14, 2022) – Indigenous people in remote and regional areas are frequently missing out on disability services they are entitled to due to an absence of support and knowledge, while others are afraid to ask for help out of fear their children will be removed, the disability royal commission has heard.

The royal commission on Thursday heard scathing testimony about a lack of meaningful engagement with First Nations disability service providers and “tokenistic” measures.

The chief executive of the First People’s Disability Network, Damian Griffis, outlined nearly “a decade of frustrations” with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

Wheelchair

“If you are to judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable we would argue that as a nation we are failing miserably,” Griffis told the royal commission.

The royal commission has been examining the difficulties First Nations people with disabilities living in remote and regional parts of the country have with accessing basic care and services.

Griffis called for the NDIS and the agency to work with First Nations people and disability services.

“We are prepared to take that approach now as long as it’s done in a genuine way – with co-design and genuine power sharing and a genuine two-way learning approach,” Griffis said.

The deputy chief executive of the First People’s Disability Network, June Riemer, said that Indigenous people with active NDIS plans were not accessing all of their eligible services and funding.

“It’s more of a lack of understanding, education and knowledge about what is in that plan … none of those things are explained to individuals or the families who are supporting that person,” she said.

Riemer said too many people were being forced to go off their traditional country to access the support and care they require.

The royal commission was told many Indigenous families were afraid to ask for help in case their children were removed from their care by authorities.

“We need the agency to understand that having conversations with the agency about their child is very loaded – and it’s very risky,” Griffis said.

He said authorities did not take into account social issues such as poverty and housing and that they often didn’t understand why families may be reluctant to engage.

“The system doesn’t take into account the power imbalances between First Nations communities and the system,” Griffis said.

“Having conversations and talking to family members about their child and asking the system to help is a risk for many First Nations people – that’s the reality,” Griffis said.

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