Barriers and solutions
Universal barriers to progress
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).
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.
A number of solutions to these two key universal barriers were proposed,
and these are discussed later in this chapter.
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
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.
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.
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.
Social construct barriers
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.
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.
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
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.'
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,
training for general public and staff likely to provide services, including in industries
such as health, transport and financial services,
and more research to identify specific inclusion barriers for people with a
cognitive or psychosocial impairment.
Perceived inadequacies in the disability discrimination complaints
process continue to draw widespread concern from the disability sector.
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).
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.
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.
Focus on NDIS
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;
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
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.
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.
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].
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.
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 is 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.
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
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.
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.
For those outside of the NDIS eligibility criteria, this can severely limit
access to these services.
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.
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.
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
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,
However, AFDO told the committee that demand for the ILC already exceeds its
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'.
Monitoring and reporting
Significant concerns were raised by many submitters and witnesses with
the way progress of the Disability Strategy's implementation is monitored,
evaluated and reported.
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.
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.
The AHRC submitted that the Disability Strategy needed to implement more
rigorous monitoring and evaluation of progress being made,
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'.
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.
A way forward
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.
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),
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.
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.
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
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
Fixing the consultation process
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.
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.
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.
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,
as these groups are often at the forefront of community consultation processes.
Setting and monitoring measurable
The current reporting mechanisms of the Disability Strategy have been
ineffective in ensuring action or accountability due to a lack of measurable
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.
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.
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.
This data could be tracked in a longitudinal fashion beyond the life of the
and include items such as:
participation of people with disability in public sector
proportion of public transport that is accessible;
proportion of new housing built to various levels of
proportion of people with disability satisfied with their
hospital stay compared with the general population;
proportion of people with severe or profound disability reporting
poor or fair health outcomes compared with the general population; and
proportion of the prison population with intellectual disability
and with cognitive impairment.
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.
Further recommendations from
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:
Amend the National Construction Code to include access features in
all new and extensively modified housing, as specified in Liveable Housing
Australia's Gold level.
Increase the stock of accessible accommodation for purchase and
rent through mechanisms such as incentives for developers and owners.
Review whether Commonwealth Disability (Access to Premises –
Buildings) Standards 2010 are effective in supporting all people with a
disability, including those with hearing, cognitive or psychiatric impairments.
Introduce mandatory requirements for the needs of people with
disability to be taken into account in the safety management of public and
corporate buildings and facilities.
Improve communication services for people with disability,
including but not limited to ensuring public sector websites, documents and
materials are compliant with accessibility standards, and increasing
captioning, audio description and relay and translation services.
Ensure accessibility to essential services such as banking.
Improve the use of and access to Auslan, by increased translator
funding and enshrine the right to use Auslan as a recognised language.
Improve transport services and standards, including funding for
local solutions, fast-track national standards compliance, require accessible
announcements for public transport and ensure taxis and ride sourcing services
like Uber are subject to appropriate legislation upholding the right to full
accessibility to services.
Maintain transport funding/mobility allowance for people with a
disability who are unable to use public transport without substantial
Maintain existing disability school bus systems.
Advocacy and advice
Require all levels of government to ensure continued and
appropriate levels of funding to disability representative and advocacy
organisations to provide systemic and individual advocacy as part of creating
inclusive and accessible communities under the National Disability Strategy.
Require all levels of government to ensure continued and
appropriate levels of funding of Independent Living Centres to ensure ongoing
availability of well established, consumer-focused assistive technology
Civil, social and economic
Incorporate measures to address violence, abuse and neglect of
people with disability as a priority area within the Disability Strategy.
Create agency capacity for examination of own-motion complaints
regarding systemic discrimination against people with disability. This could
sit with the existing AHRC.
Strengthen the focus on employment, to improve the economic
position of individual people with disability, including implementing the
recommendations of the AHRC Willing to Work report.
Ensure actions and concrete measures under the Disability
Strategy are inclusive and responsive to the issues and concerns of diverse
groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with
disability, women with disability, children and young people with disability
and people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse/Non English Speaking
Backgrounds with disability.
Support the Whole of Community Response to Disability,
which involves mapping communities to ascertain unmet need, available
resources, and requirements to improve accessibility.
Ensure civil rights and access to justice, through supported
decision-making, and enacting the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission
report Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Laws.
Improve options for the use of volunteering as a pathway to
Work with sporting and tourism organisations to improve the
accessibility of the recreational sector.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The Committee recommends that all Australian Governments recommit
to the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and meeting associated domestic
and international reporting obligations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The committee recommends the revised National Disability Strategy
should include development of solutions to the barriers identified to this
Senator Rachel Siewert
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