Changing attitudes to disability support in remote Indigenous communities

Changing attitudes to disability support in remote Indigenous communities
Organisation: NPY Women's Council
Contact: Kim McRae

This project aimed to promote the idea that disability work can be a satisfying career for remote Indigenous young people and to engage a group of young people in wanting to work in disability.

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The Context

The project’s scope was the 26 communities and homelands in the cross-border region of NT, WA and SA – known collectively as the NPY Region. Employing local people in remote Indigenous communities has not been very successful either in the NPY Region or elsewhere. According to Women’s Council, “contributory factors [include] a lack of awareness among community members about the rights and needs of people with disability, the low esteem in which such work is held and the specific training and support needs appropriate to employment in remote Aboriginal communities”.

The Problem

Women’s Council observes that the assumption Aboriginal people want jobs in disability, and, with a small amount of assistance are in a position to move smoothly into the disability workforce, is misconceived. Considerable investment and support and recognition of the complex history of Aboriginal employment is needed. Retaining people is a challenge as great as recruiting them in the first instance.

The Solution

Women’s Council’s project promotes disability work as a satisfying career for remote Indigenous young people and seeks to engage them in training and work. The aims of this program is to increase people’s expectations of quality services, increase the status of disability work, and build people’s understanding that people with disability can play a leadership role in communities.

Expected Impact

The project set out to achieve the following:

  • Community members having more understanding of how human rights underpin disability support
  • Five to ten local Anangu people expressing interest in disability support work
  • A group of ten young people taking part in the program and completing three month work placements
  • Greater capacity for NPY Women’s Council to provide a broader range of disability supports because they have more suitable workers.

For the broader disability sector:

  • A documented, tested model and associated resources that can be adapted by other communities.

Stage and Spread

Recruitment of project staff with the mix of experience, skills and knowledge needed was predictably difficult because of the remote setting. Existing Women’s Council staff were deployed to the project, and this meant the project plan had to be adapted to their pre-existing commitments.

The consultation phase, providing the opportunity for discussion in communities about the rights and needs of people with disability, was unavoidably delayed. Women’s Council observed:

As with all the work we do at NPYWC the schedule for this work had to be very flexible because of [factors such as] a period of very wet weather that resulted in roads being closed for two weeks…and sorry business as some very senior people have died and which means community members have been sitting in sorry camps and are reluctant to engage.

However, other work proceeded and consultation took other forms. Several younger Aboriginal women and one senior woman have been sharing their stories of working in the sector, and others about being a service-user.

As the project evolved the idea of producing short films emerged. Women’s Council has used local stories in the past to communicate information effectively (most Anangu people speak fluently but don’t read Anangu language, and have low literacy in English). More vivid and interesting than pamphlets, they can be shown at large gatherings, and on rotation in Hitnet kiosks found in many remote communities. Using film also means messages can be conveyed directly by local women in Anangu.

Films about ‘what makes a good worker?’ from the perspectives of Aboriginal people working in and with disability are being created. In a mix of English and Language, they will be sub-titled and useful in other remote settings.

Lessons and Insights

The project set out to produce culturally meaningful resources framing disability work in a human rights context. VALID’s brochures provided a good starting point because of their accessibility and simplicity.

The topics were narrowed down through consultation with well-respected senior women. Posters and pamphlets in English were developed with their image guidance and content approval, and the artwork was commissioned from a local artist. A positive spinoff was a change of attitude to the place of Aboriginal people in disability by some of the Women’s Council’s Directors. Having spent several days thinking about how to translate concepts (like disability rights) into meaningful images, people’s understanding of the project and the issues it was addressing deepened:

Margaret Smith, a senior Anangu woman is now a champion for the project as she understands its aims…and can talk to others in the communities about the work opportunities for local people as the NDIS rolls out in the region.

As a result of this change, the Directors have now sought and obtained a complementary grant from the NT Government to work intensively to help retain Aboriginal young people in the workforce, once recruited. Women’s Council knows that intensive employment assistance is necessary to help the new recruits get ready for work and cope with the new pressures they will face from the community, family and the workplace.

The messages and themes of the posters have also been received positively in communities where Women’s Council has run workshops and undertaken outreach. A cohort of young women interested in taking part in training and possibly work has been formed.

Roadblocks and Risks

Women’s Council has applied for funding for this project many times previously, the first time in 2006. They continued to believe in the need for it, and that the logic underpinning the approach was sound.

To date the project strategies are working, but the slowness of the NDIS rollout is a challenge. To date, just 13 families in over 100,000  km2 of the APY lands have NDIS plans after five years of NDIS rollout. Consequently, people are not familiar with the scheme and do not understand the opportunities associated with it. Quicker rollout and greater take up of the scheme would make it easier for Women’s Council to build interest about working in disability, and to achieve economies of scale in delivering services for which they are seeking to recruit workers.