The government agency responsible for Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been accused of leaving behind the LGBTIQA+ community, and in some cases directly abusing trans and intersex people.
The NDIS is a federal government scheme that funds expenses associated with significant disabilities for individuals.
It was legislated in 2013 and rolled out nationally in 2016.
Community advocates originally met with the National Disability Support Agency (NDIA) in 2017 to develop an LGBTIQA+ inclusion strategy, but are still waiting to see even a draft.
‘Intersex people don’t exist’
The planned strategy, intended to guide how the agency works with disabled LGBTIQA+ people, has been ‘coming soon’ for years.
In the meantime, trans and intersex people say they have been discriminated against and outright abused by NDIA staff.
“The woman from the NDIS told [me] that intersex people don’t exist and we should be banned from [accessing] help through the NDIS,” reported one person in a social media support group.
Another said they were considering seeking psychiatric care over the distress caused by their experience with the agency.
“When I received my NDIS plan that excluded a lot of things [it] made me quite upset,” they wrote.
“Really honestly not coping.”
NDIS support recipient Annabelle Oxley said the “daunting” application process took nine months, with “a lot of red tape and very vague guidelines”.
She said that staff have not been overtly transphobic to her, but described the situation as “trans ignorance”.
“There just isn’t any knowledge base about it within the NDIA,” said Oxley.
She said she felt unable to disclose her trans status, and as a result has been unable to seek help with any related expenses.
“It is basically a new version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’,” she said.
“They need more [LGBTIQA+] informed policy and practice.”
Bullying and unpaid work
Intersex advocate Alex David was among around 30 community representatives originally invited to provide input for the LGBTIQA+ strategy.
“This strategy, despite promises… has as yet not been implemented by the NDIA,” David said.
“There seems to be cultural, structural, and education and awareness issues occurring with the NDIA, leading to discrimination [toward] the LGBTIQA+ community.
“The possibility of the religious discrimination bill becoming law will be a major issue as well, given that many of the support organisations registered with the NDIA are religious based.
“This was raised back in 2017 with the NDIA but was ignored.”
David said that during the consultation process, the community members – many of them disability pensioners – were not appropriately compensated for their time and input.
People’s individual disabilities were allegedly not considered, such as people with chronic fatigue being expected to travel interstate and attend meetings on the same day, and inaccessible venues being used.
David said that NDIA staff bullied the consultants when issues of accessibility and professional treatment were raised.
Advocate Thomas Banks, Managing Director of the Centre for Access, was also involved in the initial consultations and has been following up with the NDIA about when the strategy will be released.
He said that the agency had committed to work with the community representatives but so far failed to present a strategy.
“We are still angry, and we want to see the strategy implemented across the organisation,” said Banks.
An NDIA spokesperson denied that staff have discriminated against or abused any member of the community.
“Our frontline staff deliver a high standard of quality service to participants,” they said.
“The agency does not tolerate any discrimination or abuse of participants, no matter their situation or need.”
They added that the agency is “in the final stages of completing its LGBTIQA+ strategy”.
“The NDIA has extensively consulted with self-identified people with disability from the LGBTIQA+ communities and 19 sector specialist organisations to develop the LGBTIQA+ strategy – any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect,” they said.
“We have been fortunate in working with many passionate stakeholders to develop and strengthen this strategy and we look forward to it being publicly released before July 2020.”
Banks confirmed that the community consultants have been advised the strategy will be released by mid-year, but noted that the same was said last year.
‘Ignorance of the need for LGBTIQA+ cultural safety’
Nicky Bath, CEO of the National LGTBI Health Alliance, said that her organisation is also still waiting and advocating to see the strategy after providing input.
“Bureaucratic systems can take some time, and it seems that there’s a sticking point somewhere within the NDIA in getting that strategy released,” she said.
Bath said that the strategy is crucial to address the unique issues faced by LGBTIQA+ people with disabilities.
“The strategy is an important document to assist us to make sure that LGBTIQA+ people with disabilities are treated fairly and in a non-discriminatory way, and provide guidance on working with LGBTIQA+ people,” she said.
She noted that general services are often unsuitable to meet the needs of LGBTIQA+ people, including many that are run by religious organisations and may discriminate.
“Even with the best intentions of carers, there’s often a total ignorance of the need for LGBTIQA+ cultural safety,” she said.
Bath said that the community needs the inclusion strategy to be implemented to ensure fairness.
“We know that for LGBTIQA+ people with disabilities, there’s an even greater burden of health and wellbeing disparities, so it’s really important that the strategy is released,” she said.
“I would expect it to provide a framework and priorities to help the sector work together in a consistent way to make sure the care of LGBTIQA+ people with disabilities is of a high and equitable standard.”
Cultural and linguistic diversity
Concerns have also been raised about ensuring that culturally and linguistically diverse LGBTIQA+ people are treated fairly under the NDIS.
Dwayne Cranfield, CEO of the National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA), said that LGBTIQA+ people with disabilities from diverse backgrounds “have a fundamental right to access services that will support them, without prejudice or judgement”.
NEDA President Margherita Coppolino acknowledged the work done by the NDIA to develop the draft LGBTIQA+ strategy.
“Once implemented, the strategy will be an important support for LGBTIQA+ people with disability who want access to safe and appropriate LGBTIQA+ support and services, using their NDIS plans”, she said.
Coppolino, a lesbian with a disability from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, said that she wants NDIS supports that understand and are responsive to her intersectional experience, and services that connect her to the LGBTIQA+ community.
“LGBTIQA+ people don’t want to have to disclose or ‘come out of the closet’ every time a support person is hired”, she said.
The community is awaiting the NDIA’s promised release of the strategy.