NDIS: It’s about time.

CEO Social Justice Blog

Published 28 June 2013 in the Newcastle Herald.

PEOPLE with disability, their families and disability support agencies are delighted Newcastle and the Lower Hunter have been chosen as the NSW launch site for the new National Disability Insurance Scheme, to be introduced on Monday July 1.

Funding previously handed from governments to organisations like Samaritans to roll out community programs will instead be given directly to people with disability.

From July 1, they’re in the driving seat.

One of the most challenging comments I used to hear when I began my career in social work over 40years ago was from parents who would say they hoped their son or daughter with a disability would die before they did.

I found the comment challenging because these parents were saying they did not trust the rest of us to provide the necessary care and support following the death of the parent.

With the NDIS, my hope is that these concerns will finally be addressed.

We expect the new scheme to bring hope, opportunity, empowerment and dignity to the people of NSW who have a disability. We must acknowledge the progress made since the International Year of Disabled People in 1984 and the closure of large institutions. But the Shut Out report of 2009 and the Productivity Commission report of 2011 highlighted that support services are woefully inadequate.

With the introduction of DisabilityCare Australia and now firmly in the driving seat of their own support, people with disabilities will have much greater access to the opportunities and choices of what they want and when they want it.

Currently, organisations like Samaritans provide accommodation support to people with an intellectual disability. We also help prepare people for employment. Other programs teach social skills and independent living skills such as travel training, cooking, budgeting, music, art and gardening.

With the introduction of DisabilityCare Australia, services can now go beyond this and be truly centred on each individual’s needs. Disability support providers will need to become much more flexible. Group living and group activities may be replaced with individual choice.

A young man from Mayfield who has Down Syndrome wants to get trained to work as a barista? It’s his call.

A 40-year-old mother in Lambton who uses a wheelchair wants to stay active through her local gym? Fantastic, let’s go.

There are a range of services across our region located close to urban centres and transport. But there are many gaps in services and some people with a significant disability receive little or no support.

Many young people with disabilities end up living in nursing homes for the rest of their lives because there is nowhere else. People with disabilities continue to battle with stigma, isolation, access to buildings, transport and jobs.

So there is much to be done, and I am hopeful and confident that the NDIS will bring much-needed change. We have the opportunity and responsibility, having been chosen as the launch site, to ensure DisabilityCare Australia is a success.

However, what DisabilityCare and the NDIS alone can’t change is community attitude. This takes more work. Achieving full inclusion in Australian society will require all of us to challenge our attitudes and be ready to open all doors and remove all barriers to a group of people, who in the past have been denied their full rights of citizenship. This applies to employers, who should make their workplaces more accessible, as well as church and community groups.

The Shut Out report in 2009 highlighted that most people with a significant disability felt shut out of housing, employment, education, healthcare, recreation and even shopping centres.

There is much to be done, but the NDIS is a great start.

Certainly, there will be challenges as the scheme gets under way in the Hunter. The availability of affordable housing will be a major issue. But the mood in the community is optimistic.

The barriers are coming down. And it’s about time.

Cec Shevels is chief executive of the Samaritans Foundation, a Newcastle-based non-profit, serving those with disability for nearly 30 years