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The NDIS is not everything

  • 10 November 2017


A disabled man is in prison because the justice system fails people with disability. Advocacy organisations highlight his case publicly and continue to call for change. This has happened before and will happen again while mainstream services, such as prisons and courts, are so hostile to people with disability.

Francis has a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) package, designed to support his individual needs, but this has not been able to ensure he has an equitable path through the world, nor should it. Cuts to many other forms of disability support, outside the NDIS, mean that inequalities in access have profound implications for disabled people.

Currently, in NSW and Queensland, there are campaigns underway to save disability advocacy services that work with people in situations like Francis'. These fights are an indicator of the profound changes happening in disability services across the country, and what is getting lost amid the new world of the NDIS. The recent Productivity Commission report into NDIS costs said 'the NDIS should not be seen as an oasis of support, surrounded by a desert where little or nothing is available'.

Much existing disability support funding is being rolled into the NDIS, leaving myriad gaps in the progress towards equality for people with disability. This just reinforces the belief that people with disability aren't welcome in the rest of society. We only get to be over there, in the special NDIS place. This is hardly progress.

The world can be a hostile and unwelcoming place for many people with disability. Disabled people experience considerable disadvantage because the world is designed for non-disabled bodies. There is little room or space or design to accommodate different ways of moving or communicating or understanding. Infrastructure is often unusable and much of the built environment is only for those with a particular kind of body that operates in a particular way.

What is disabling is less about an individual's impairment than about these structural barriers in the world. Unemployment can be a result of discrimination and a lack of accessible workplaces; health inequality for people with intellectual disability is a result of a lack of skills in clinicians, and under-treating of chronic conditions, not because of the disability itself.

This understanding of disability as a social issue demands a social response; one that takes into account the intersecting structural barriers that people with disability face. It is in this context that the much neglected National Disability Strategy