Written by Ben McAtamney

There is a real flaw in the conceptual foundation of the NDIS that we are starting to see the gravity of as it rolls out and affects more and more people.

The current model for funding plans under the NDIS is founded on a misguided concept of disability. In an attempt to make the impact a person’s disability will have on their life more predictable/manageable and thus easier to plan for, particularly for LAC’s who are not experienced in working within disability, the NDIA has chosen to pathologize disability, completely negating the role sociocultural factors play in disabling an individual. It is not the physical manifestation of the disability that is the disabling factor, but rather the extent to which social institutions are or aren’t set up to accommodate this variance.

This social model of disability means that a person is not disabled by the severity of their difference, but by the extent to which they attempt to engage with institutions and people around them and the extent to which these people and institutions are capable of accommodating them. For example, a Deaf person who moves primarily in a Deaf friendship circle and works for a Deaf organization where all the staff use Auslan will have a very different experience compared with a Deaf person who works at a supermarket and wishes to be involved with a community theatre troupe on the weekends. The physical/sensory disability is identical in this case, however the experience of the disabling effects of this difference is not. This is due to the social context the individual has found themselves in or wishes to create.

From this perspective, it is easy to see how the needs an NDIS participant must account for in planning their package will be varying, dynamic and impossible to plan for 12 months in advance. In addition to this, it seems laughable that a scheme who’s purported goal is to equalize the opportunities provided to people with a disability with the rest of society would have, as one of its core processes, something that we would never expect non-disabled members of our society to do: ie remove all spontaneity and flexibility from their lives and account for all their needs ahead of time, every 12months.

A more flexible approach to planning, review and modification is needed to ensure that this scheme empowers people in the way it is intended to; provides flexibility, choice and control in the way that it is intended to; and finally, does not set back years of work done by disability advocates and allies to these communities that have fought to have the disabling influence of society recognized and to not reduce people with a disability to being the summation of their physical difference.

What is the best way to feed this back to the NDIA? I’m simply not willing to sit back and let a vulnerable client group suffer while we wait for precedents to be set and the kinks to be worked out of system.

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