Australia

Percentage of culturally diverse NDIS participants still more than halfway off 2018 projections

More than five years into the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the percentage of participants receiving support who identify as culturally and linguistically diverse remains significantly behind expectations, new data shows. 

The National Disability Insurance Agency, which runs the NDIS, produced a cultural and linguistic diversity strategy in 2018, which says it was “expected that around 20 per cent of full Scheme participants across all regions will be from a CALD background” by 2019.

But according to the NDIA’s latest quarterly report, released on Monday, the percentage of participants who identified as CALD in June 2021 was just 9.5 per cent – more than halfway behind where the figure was expected to be two years ago. 

There were 466,619 NDIS participants in total across Australia as of 30 June 2021, according to the report, with 44,113 of them from CALD backgrounds.

While the proportion of new participants who identify as CALD has been gradually increasing in recent years, disability advocates say outreach to multicultural communities has been poor for some time.

 

Dwayne Cranfield – CEO of the National Ethnic Disability Alliance, which worked on a draft of the NDIA’s CALD strategy – said the 2018 plan was “rubbish” and key elements around its implementation were overlooked.

He said he was not surprised by the data in the new quarterly report. 

“There is a real lack of ability at the NDIA to engage with culturally diverse people. It’s an aspect that they don’t really understand,” he told SBS News.

Mr Cranfeld said there is also “a real disconnect” between what happens at the top and bottom levels of the NDIS “with regard to where CALD people slot in”.

“The NDIS is so siloed in the way that it works with various departments and functions that one does not know what the other one is doing. We’re constantly asked to do translation jobs or bits and pieces, and months later, another department will come to us and ask us to do exact same thing again,” he said.

“It’s a real mess and the people who suffer are culturally and linguistically diverse people.

“We’re a country built on migration, so the issue is that they’ve got to talk to people, they’ve got to talk to the communities, bring the communities together, and use the national peak bodies to do that.”

A close up of Centrelink and NDIS signage in Norwood, Adelaide.

AAP

The NDIA is currently refreshing its CALD strategy, with community engagement set to begin later this year, according to its website. The refresh “will be completed in 2022”, it says. 

In a statement, an NDIA spokesperson said the agency has a “deep commitment to working alongside CALD people in a respectful and inclusive way”.

“Reported figures reflect low rates of self-identification of CALD people seeking access to the NDIS, and not large numbers of ‘missing’ potential CALD participants. It is important to recognise that reported figures represent individuals who have chosen to be identified as being from a CALD background,” they said.

The NDIA is “examining the CALD participant cohort to further understand this lower than expected reported proportion of identified participants” and is continuing to engage with the community on the matter, the spokesperson added.

Last year, federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS recommended the NDIA review its CALD strategy.

The committee heard evidence CALD people with disability faced difficulties obtaining support, that cultural attitudes to disability prevented them from accessing the NDIS, that overall levels of cultural competency within the NDIA were insufficient, and that CALD people were often confused by NDIS terminology due to language barriers.

 

In one specific example of a language barrier, the committee heard of a Korean-speaking participant with no English skills who was denied ongoing help from a Korean-speaking support coordinator.

Despite his lack of English he was forced to communicate with his service providers and approve invoices alone.

When he contacted the NDIA with the support of a provider he “was unable to answer or comprehend any NDIS related terms, ended up crying, and became verbally abusive due to the frustrating circumstances”.

The committee also heard people from CALD backgrounds had difficulty appealing NDIA decisions, which blew out by more than 700 per cent between 2016 and 2020.

Of the 18,352 new participants that received an NDIS plan in the last quarter, 10.8 per cent identified as being from a CALD background, according to the new NDIA annual report.

NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds was contacted for comment.

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