Chapter 4

Barriers and solutions

Universal barriers to progress

4.1        As discussed extensively throughout Chapters 2 and 3, consultation and coordination were seen as universal barriers to progress under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (Disability Strategy).[1] The level of consultation to establish the goals, implementation plans and evaluation strategies for the Disability Strategy were not seen to be either meaningful or regular enough, resulting in projects that did not adequately address the issues. Coordination of efforts, across jurisdictions, between government departments or as public and private joint efforts, was not seen to be either proactive enough, or was disjointed. This was seen to result in projects that were poorly implemented even where well-conceived.

4.2        A number of solutions to these two key universal barriers were proposed, and these are discussed later in this chapter.

4.3        Beyond consultation and coordination, a range of other universal barriers to achieving progress under the Disability Strategy were put forward by witnesses and submitters, and are discussed below.

Lack of understanding of accessibility

4.4        Chapter 1 briefly discussed what constitutes accessibility. Evidence presented to the inquiry showed there is a great deal of confusion in the community on what accessibility solutions should look like. Disturbingly, that confusion often comes from the entities who are implementing the accessibility project. Submitters argued that confusion around accessibility was particularly prevalent in issues around mental health or psychosocial disabilities.[2]

4.5        To address this issue, the Brotherhood of St Laurence suggested the Disability Strategy should go back to basics for understanding accessibility and it should:

Develop an in-depth understanding of inclusion and exclusion, particularly for those groups, such as people with mental health and psychosocial disability, who may find inclusion the most difficult. This could lead to the development of a set of exclusion/inclusion indicators and outcomes that reflect the social, cultural, civil and political inclusion needs.[3]

4.6        The National Employment Services Association made a similar recommendation for the establishment of national accessibility indicators, which can be measured and then compared across communities with publication of a Community Accessibility League Table.[4]

Social construct barriers

4.7        Submitters and witnesses argued that for many forms of disability, particularly ones relating to cognitive or psychiatric impairment, the most prevalent barriers to accessible communities were social-construct barriers.

4.8        The Mental Health Commission of NSW (NSW MHC) submitted that 'in the case of psychosocial disability many of the changes required are not physical but attitudinal.' The NSW MHC listed the key barriers not being tackled adequately by the Disability Strategy as: stigma and discrimination; failure to identify and respond to the needs of people who experience psychosocial disability; and lack of understanding about trauma informed care.[5]

4.9        Dementia Australia concurred with the view that social-construct barriers were key issues for the Disability Strategy to address in relation to accessibility barriers for people with dementia, along with improved training for people to understand dementia.[6]

4.10      Amaze similarly submitted that an autism friendly environment is achieved both by physical as well as non-physical adjustments to support communication, sensory regulation and cognitive needs. These adjustments include 'lighting, acoustics, smells, colours, spatial features, flooring and other design elements. They may also include the way information is conveyed, for example a lack of non-verbal communication or signs.' Furthermore, cognitive or social barriers were seen as 'a need for routine/predictability and delayed or single channel processing.'[7]

4.11      Submitters put forward a number of recommendations around cognitive and psychiatric impairment that could make a significant positive impact on increasing accessibility and inclusivity for people with these types of disability. These included government lead campaigns to increase awareness and acceptance of cognitive and psychiatric impairment,[8] training for general public and staff likely to provide services, including in industries such as health, transport and financial services,[9] and more research to identify specific inclusion barriers for people with a cognitive or psychosocial impairment.[10]

Complaints schemes

4.12      Perceived inadequacies in the disability discrimination complaints process continue to draw widespread concern from the disability sector.[11]

4.13      Submitters and witnesses argued that the compliance mechanism for accessibility relies on individuals to pursue complaints, first by raising the matter with the entity in question, and then through the courts. Deaf Australia noted that the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 requires a person to self-fund a legal challenge to any unresolved complaints made through the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).[12]

4.14      People with Disability WA also raised this issue, telling the committee the onus is on the individual to make individual complaints regarding any lack of accessibility. People with Disability WA recommended a change to the complaints framework to enable an individual to make a complaint to a third party body, which will inspect and enforce standards.[13]

4.15      Access Easy English also explained that for many individuals with intellectual disabilities or communication difficulties, complaints processes and forms are often not in a format that they can use.[14]

Focus on NDIS

4.16      The NDIS was raised by many submitters and witnesses as being both a key solution and a key challenge to achieving accessible and inclusive communities. It was noted that the success of the NDIS is dependent on the success of all aspects of the Disability Strategy;[15] a person may not be able to use their NDIS package effectively if they cannot access the community through accessible transport, public spaces or justice systems.[16]

4.17      Throughout the inquiry, it was argued that the NDIS was taking all the focus and efforts of governments, which meant less focus and progress on the other outcomes of the Disability Strategy.[17] Witnesses went so far as to say that in response to the implementation of the NDIS, state and territory Governments were divesting themselves of funding responsibility for all other disability issues.[18]

I think with the advent of the NDIS, the [Disability Strategy] has been conflated with the NDIS and has almost been a subset of it. So governments have basically been attending to the more instrumental demands of the NDIS and they've forgotten about the strategy. The NDIA [National Disability Insurance Agency] is now looking at the strategy to save its bacon in regard to access to mainstream services and not having all the cost and support coming back to the scheme. I think there needs to be some work done to separate out what is in the scheme's interest and what are the broader policy objectives of the [Disability Strategy].[19]

4.18      Agosci Inc. argued that funding different parts of the Disability Strategy should remain separate – while investing in individualised support under the NDIS has provided many opportunities to address needs and social participation of individuals, the overall creation of accessible communities requires direct funding to public and private organisations to help them provide accessibility solutions suitable for all users.[20]

4.19      However, even if funding is separated, the NDIS cannot work in isolation from the rest of the National Disability Strategy. Mr Damian Griffis, Chief Executive Officer of First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) told the committee this ┬áis particularly an issue in remote communities, where individualised support under the NDIS is difficult to obtain and may not reflect the needs or culture of a community:

...even on a practical level, in some of our communities it may be that there are only two or three people who are eligible for the NDIS and, if you take a market approach to that, the market is very likely to decide that it is not profitable, for want of a better word, to go and work there. So we need an alternative system that is more culturally appropriate, and that is why we say that a whole-of-community response is the appropriate way to go.[21]

4.20      Mr Griffis further explained that in remote communities, it is particularly significant to ensure that the built environment, transport and communications technologies have the capacity to accommodate people with disability as well as seeking other individualised solutions under the NDIS:

The fundamental problem that we have with the NDIS is that it will not deliver things like footpaths and it will not necessarily provide accessible transport...

I think the solution there is investment on the part of government, and it might be investing in things like a fleet of accessible vehicles, and then that can be driven by local community people and can create jobs, actually. At the moment, it is an absolutely informal set-up. If you live in, I don't know, Tennant Creek and you have to get down to Alice Springs, you can go on a Greyhound bus, but that is not exactly physically accessible if you are a wheelchair user. You have to try and get a ride with someone, basically, to get down there. There is no real, meaningful way of getting around.[22]

4.21      The committee also received evidence that it is important to ensure that funding the NDIS is not unnecessarily preventing people with disability from accessing assistive technologies or other accessibility solutions. For example, since the introduction of the NDIS, state government funding for Independent Living Centres, which provide guidance on such devices, has generally decreased as the focus has moved towards the individual.[23] For those outside of the NDIS eligibility criteria, this can severely limit access to these services.[24]

4.22      Eligibility for the NDIS itself has caused a major barrier to inclusion. People with disability who are not eligible for the NDIS, feel doubly excluded from the community as non-NDIS disability support programs are being reduced.[25]

Many older people with disability who are ineligible for the NDIS currently find themselves in a state of limbo when it comes to accessing disability-related services and supports.[26]

4.23      Changes to funding of and eligibility for accessibility measures under the NDIS, such as the mobility allowance, mean that people are missing out on what they need, or losing choice and autonomy in their everyday decision-making:

Many people with disability who utilise the mobility allowance either won't be NDIS eligible or, if they're NDIS eligible, won't receive transport support in their plan....It goes like this: 'I am an NDIS participant and I've lost my mobility allowance. I did not receive transport allowance as part of my plan. The reason I was given is that I was allocated money in my plan for hand controls on a car. I normally drive, so of course I need this. Problem with this, though, is I still qualify for mobility allowance. I make the argument that, sure, I can drive, but a person without disability sometimes goes to a location where, for reasons like cost and convenience, it is easier to catch public transport. Inability to independently catch public transport is a criteria for mobility allowance, so they have taken away that ability for me to use a cheaper option and force me to always use my car'.[27]

4.24      In this context, the Information, Linkages and Capacity (ILC) Building framework under the NDIS is an important pathway to improving inclusion. The ILC involves the whole community regardless of eligibility status, by building awareness and understanding of disability. It also has specific responsibility for people with disability who are outside of the NDIS,[28] However, AFDO told the committee that demand for the ILC already exceeds its allocated budget[29] and the Mental Health Community Coalition ACT noted that 'expectations in the sector that the ILC can fill the gaps opened up under the NDIS are low'.[30]

Monitoring and reporting

4.25      Significant concerns were raised by many submitters and witnesses with the way progress of the Disability Strategy's implementation is monitored, evaluated and reported.[31] FPDN told the committee that poor evaluation frameworks have the capacity to undermine the Disability Strategy:

Unless we have time frames and measurable outcomes, I think things like the National Disability Strategy, which are very good, actually falter at the finish line.[32]

4.26      People with Disabilities WA told the committee that improvements have been piecemeal and the result of goodwill rather than the result of effective planning and that as progress reporting is not specific, it is impossible to evaluate whether progress is caused by the Disability Strategy or other factors.[33]

4.27      The AHRC submitted that the Disability Strategy needed to implement more rigorous monitoring and evaluation of progress being made,[34] while Advocacy for Inclusion stated '[i]t is incomprehensible that there remain absolutely no indicators and/or measurements and/or data collection and/or qualitative monitoring built into the National Disability Strategy'.[35]

4.28      Multiple organisations recommended to the committee that a research and evidence base, including standardised data collection and monitoring, needs to be established in order to support the continuation of the Disability Strategy and to evaluate if it is proving effective.[36]

A way forward

4.29      Submitters and witnesses provided a wealth of recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Disability Strategy. A consistent recommendation was the need for a 'strengthened, national, consistent, performance accountability and public reporting mechanism' for the strategy.[37]

Cementing coordination

4.30      Submitters argued that a key problem with the development of the Disability Strategy lies in the cross-portfolio responsibilities. While the Disability Strategy has been declared to be a mechanism to deliver Australia's responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disability Convention),[38] for which the Attorney-General's Department has reporting responsibility, operational responsibility for the Disability Strategy lies with the Department of Social Services. Disabled People's Organisations Australia (DPOA) submits the assignment of portfolio responsibility has changed the focus of the Disability Strategy from a human rights focus to a welfare focus:

The Second Implementation Plan appears to be a document that highlights existing priorities within the remit of DSS...This has created the very real risk that the [Disability Strategy] has become a welfare focused strategy rather than a mechanism to drive [Disability Convention] implementation across government agencies and between jurisdictions.[39]

4.31      Many advocacy organisations agreed on a specific recommendation to establish an Office of Disability Strategy, with a view it should sit within an agency with a human rights focus, rather than the welfare focus of an agency such as the Department of Human Services.[40] The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was repeatedly recommended by submitters and witnesses as the most appropriate agency to house this office, to increase the attention paid to the Disability Strategy and give greater ability to oversee work of other departments. However, Deaf Australia recommended the function may be best placed outside of existing government structures.[41]

4.32      It was further recommended that an Office of Disability Strategy should also incorporate a tripartite governance and advisory structure consisting of disability Ministers, relevant nominees from other parts of government and disability organisations.[42]

Fixing the consultation process

4.33      Key concerns raised by many organisations participating in this inquiry, were the fundamental lack of consultation, centralised coordination, and concrete measures and performance indicators across the whole Disability Strategy.[43]

4.34      A key recommendation raised by a number of organisations, is to establish a policy engagement framework that enables people with disability and their representative organisations to be consulted and provide feedback on legislation and policy that affects their lives.[44] DOPA submitted a comparison to the consultation structure for the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 which includes a tripartite National Framework Advisory Committee that comprises community and disability ministers with nominees from other sectors along with non‑government representative organisations. DPOA recommended:

A similar structure within the [Disability Strategy] would enhance collaboration, engagement and consultation between governments and people with disability, and build in a collaborative approach to design, implementation and evaluation of each policy outcome area.[45]

4.35      Another key recommendation to improve consultation was development of investment strategies to increase participation through advocates and community supports, including encouragement of state/territory and/or Commonwealth funding for disability representative and advocacy organisations,[46] as these groups are often at the forefront of community consultation processes.

Setting and monitoring measurable targets

4.36      The current reporting mechanisms of the Disability Strategy have been ineffective in ensuring action or accountability due to a lack of measurable goals.[47]

4.37      A significant number of submitters proposed that the Disability Strategy should be updated to include measurable performance indicators and targets, with clear reporting timeframes and evaluation mechanisms, beyond the small amount of trend data currently included in the implementation plans.[48]

4.38      It was recommended that the Disability Strategy should include a broad measurable goal of establishing a 'closing the gap' strategy for disability, tracked through data and performance indicators across a range of focus areas.[49] Both qualitative and quantitative performance indicators were recommended for the Disability Strategy, as has the introduction of an annual report to Parliament to record progress in these areas.[50] This data could be tracked in a longitudinal fashion beyond the life of the Disability Strategy[51] and include items such as:

4.39      Monitoring adherence and implementation of national standards, such as the Disability Education Standards 2005, Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 and Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002, was also recommended as part of an annual evaluation of the Disability Strategy's implementation.[53]

Further recommendations from submitters

4.40      A range of more specific solutions and recommendations were made by submitters and witnesses. It is important to capture those recommendations in one place, to assist in any future redesign of the Disability Strategy. In no order of importance, those recommendations are:

Built environment
Communication
Transport
Advocacy and advice
Civil, social and economic

Committee view

4.41      Accessibility, or the lack of it, is not created by a person's disability. It is created when the environment in which they live is being designed for other people's skills and needs. Accessibility is not about creating a 'special' solution to meet the needs of people with disability. It is about reducing the inherent discrimination of the way our communities have previously been designed, built and organised, to ensure that all abilities are catered for. Fundamentally, this is what the Disability Strategy is trying to achieve.

4.42      It is clear to the committee that, although there are significant and appropriate criticisms, overall support for the Disability Strategy is high. Submitters and witnesses from government, industry, advocacy groups and the community have emphasised their satisfaction with the stated goals of the Disability Strategy's outcomes. The Disability Strategy is viewed as essential to deliver better outcomes for those participating in the NDIS and particularly for people with disability not eligible for the NDIS. However, the implementation of the Disability Strategy in the seven years since its introduction has left much to be desired. Many people think it has been sidelined while the NDIS rollout has been happening.

4.43      The committee considers that the Disability Strategy is severely lacking in mechanisms for accountability and evaluation. With infrequent progress reports largely containing anecdotal evidence about local disability projects and a lack of specific and quantifiable goals, measuring the success of the Disability Strategy is a difficult task.

4.44      As there is no centralised agency with responsibility for coordination of implementation of the Disability Strategy, local, state/territory and federal government departments and agencies may not understand what it is that they need to do or whose responsibility it is to implement the specific outcomes of the strategy, leading to ongoing or increased gaps in access for people with disability. When it comes to the implementation of government solutions for accessible and inclusive communities, a large share of work is being done by local governments, which are often under-resourced.

4.45      Industries such as transport, communications and construction are still unsure how the Disability Strategy will affect them. There are fears that sudden alterations to standards or requirements will cause disruption to their work or be unattainable. The ongoing voluntary nature of many of these standards and many of the exemptions allowed, has meant minimal progress in implementing any real changes to improve the lives of people with disability since the introduction of the Disability Strategy.

4.46      Ironically, while the Disability Strategy aims to improve inclusion, people with disability are still feeling significantly left out of consultation around the implementation of the Disability Strategy. Without clear guidelines for how and when government and industry should involve people with disability, they find that they are consulted infrequently or incorrectly. Sometimes consultation occurs only at the start of a project, or only after implementation, or not at all. All too often, the solutions developed without the specific input of people with disability do not meet the expectations or needs of the community. Evidence has shown again and again that for consultation to work, it must be ongoing and adaptive through every stage in a project.

4.47      As stated above, accessibility barriers are a functional deficit created by poor planning and design. The Disability Strategy must be reinvigorated, and designed to ensure that every person with disability is offered a level playing field by the removal of those external barriers that prevent Australians with disability enjoying an accessible and inclusive community.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1

4.48             The Committee recommends that all Australian Governments recommit to the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and meeting associated domestic and international reporting obligations.

Recommendation 2

4.49             The committee recommends that the government takes to the Disability Reform Council for consideration a proposal to establish an Office of Disability Strategy under the oversight of the Disability Reform Council, as a coordination agency for the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and for the revised National Disability Strategy after 2020.

Recommendation 3

4.50             The committee recommends that if an Office of Disability Strategy is established, that people with disability are consulted at every stage of its development and implementation.

Recommendation 4

4.51             The committee recommends that specific measurable goals for implementation of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 are created, that these are routinely monitored, and data is collected and reported biannually to the Disability Reform Council, the Office of Disability Strategy (if created) and presented to parliament.

Recommendation 5

4.52             The committee recommends the development of best practice guidelines for detailed consultation with people with disability and their advocates under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020.

Recommendation 6

4.53             The committee recommends that a revised National Disability Strategy, with an extended timeframe of operation, be devised in consultation with people with disability, including consideration of the critical role of advocacy in this process.

Recommendation 7

4.54             The committee recommends the revised National Disability Strategy should include development of solutions to the barriers identified to this committee.

Senator Rachel Siewert
Chair 

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