Advocacy for Inclusion has made a
submission to the Senate Inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings.
This submission centres on our direct practice experience with people with disabilities, including individual advocacy support, self-advocacy support, and consultations undertaken during previous projects, as well as draws from peer reviewed
research literature. We highlight consumer insights into institutional settings, and their direct experiences of violence, including two in-depth personal stories of people with disabilities, shared with their permission. These are perspectives rarely heard
by the broader community.
The term ‘violence’ is used as a broad term in this submission to encompass abuse, neglect, and restrictive practices, because they all stem from misuse of power against people with disabilities, whether deliberate acts or otherwise. Violence
against people with disabilities can manifest in unique ways compared to violence against non-disabled people, and for this reason it often goes unrecognised. This submission explores a wide range of violence against people with disabilities, from the use
of generic institutional practices that deny real choice and control, to overt acts of violence that are recognised in criminal law.
Our key message is that institutional models for disability support are inherently flawed, violent by design, and must be phased out, particularly with the opportunities brought by the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Hearing people with disabilities
The structure of this Inquiry unfortunately will have excluded many people with disabilities in institutional settings. The timeframe for submissions was very short, and the main format for submission was in writing, which excludes people
who have low literacy or are physically unable to make a written submission. After contacting the Committee Secretariat, Advocacy for Inclusion was advised on 10 April 2015 that the Committee had begun a number of processes to make the Inquiry more accessible,
including Easy English documents, taking submissions via telephone, and extending the closing date. We are pleased to see these measures in place. However, the repeated changes to the Inquiry highlights the level of complexity and the challenges involved in
reaching the target group, which the Committee was apparently not aware of or prepared for at the outset. Consequently, the Inquiry has had very poor accessibility for much of its duration.
Even with improved accessibility, many people with disabilities in institutional settings do not have access to independent means of communication. Many do not have internet, or the capacity to privately make a phone call or write a letter
without support or at least without fear of intrusion by support staff. People with disabilities also fear repercussions for speaking out, and this acts as a major barrier to hearing their views. This means that they need targeted measures to enable them to
communicate with the Committee in a way that’s safe, private, and supportive of their access needs. It is highly likely that the vast majority of people living in institutional settings have been unable to air their views to this Inquiry, and are altogether
unaware that there has been an Inquiry. Outsiders try to reach out and contact people in institutional settings, as Advocacy for Inclusion did for this Inquiry ; however, it is generally at the discretion of institutional staff as to whether the message gets
through, as well as whether support will be offered to the person with disability to participate if they need it.
Violence in institutional settings is a hidden issue, and the fact that such an Inquiry has been unable to reach out to the people it seeks to inquire about highlights this very problem. A Royal Commission is necessary to allow the time
and resources to hear the views of people with disabilities, explore the extent and complexity of the issue, and hold support providers and individual perpetrators accountable.
The Advocacy for Inclusion submission makes 20 recommendations for action:
Recommendation 1: Hold a Royal Commission into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disabilities in institutional settings.
Recommendation 2: As per international obligations and recommendations by UN treaty monitoring bodies, the Commonwealth should fund an ongoing comprehensive assessment of the situation of children and adults with disabilities to establish
a baseline of disaggregated data against which compliance with UN treaties data collection on people with disabilities can be measured across the full range of UN treaty obligations.
Recommendation 3: Institutional models of support for people with disabilities are inherently flawed and must be defunded and phased out. The Commonwealth should establish a national plan for the full deinstitutionalisation of people with
Recommendation 4: Commit to a properly resourced National Disability Strategy and through that support the genuine inclusion and deinstitutionalisation of people with disabilities, and implementation of the
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Recommendation 5: Commonwealth to fund support for people with disabilities to have real jobs for real pay. Sheltered workshops must be phased out with funds diverted toward creating access and support in mainstream workplaces.
Recommendation 6: Establish a national mandatory reporting mechanism for restrictive practices, modelled from the Restrictive Intervention Data System (RIDS) in Victoria. This must be done with a view to facilitate the elimination of restrictive
practices in disability supports via robust collection of data and information, critical analysis and guidance.
Recommendation 7: A nationally consistent screening process for working with people with disabilities should be established for any NDIS registered services, and other services receiving direct funding to deliver disability or related supports.
Recommendation 8: To maximise control and choice, no restrictions should be placed on who self-managing NDIS participants can employ to provide supports. The NDIA must distribute information and facilitate access to police checks, working
with vulnerable people checks, and NDIA registration of the provider if the person with disability wishes, at no cost to the participant.
Recommendation 9: Commonwealth to establish a plan targeted at increasing accessible, affordable housing for people with disabilities in the community, including public housing and crisis accommodation.
Recommendation 10: Commonwealth to fund a national audit of accessibility of crisis shelters/accommodation, including analysis of age, gender, racial, cultural and linguistic status, for people with disabilities, followed by proactive response
to address the findings.
Recommendation 11: A National Disability Justice Plan should be established, with genuine funding and legislative initiatives attached, aimed at improving the accessibility of the criminal justice system for victims as well as offenders
with disabilities. This must take into account intersecting factors such as age, gender, racial, cultural and linguistic status.
Recommendation 12: Commit extra ongoing funds to expand the capacity of the National Disability Advocacy Program at least equivalent to the funds provided to service providers and carer groups, ensuring that the full range of independent,
community based disability advocacy is properly funded and made widely available.
Recommendation 13: Remove the onerous compliance burdens on the NDAP advocacy sector and redirect that money back into frontline advocacy.
Recommendation 14: A national independent statutory body for complaints, oversight and monitoring should be established and co-designed by people with disabilities. It should apply to all disability services, including all supports funded
by NDIS, plus all other disability services regardless of funding source. It must also be available to people with disabilities in informal unpaid care arrangements as they choose. It must be independent from the NDIA and other services.
Recommendation 15: The statutory body should complement and work in collaboration with the existing legal structures, such as the police, in recognition of the extreme powerlessness faced by people with disabilities due to societal inequalities,
and their subsequent increased risk of victimisation and exploitation. It must NOT operate as a disability specific alternative to the existing justice systems.
Recommendation 16: The statutory body must be fundamentally focused on protecting the rights, will and preferences of people with disabilities. It must be imposed on providers of support, NOT on people with disabilities.
Recommendation 17: The statutory body should have broad and authentic powers to investigate and enforce findings in regards to information and complaints received by people with disabilities, community members, and other statutory systems.
Recommendation 18: The statutory body should be funded in order to meet the demand and access needs of people with disabilities. It should be allocated a fixed percentage of all other disability related spending
Recommendation 19: The statutory body should include a national community visitor scheme as part of its function.
Recommendation 20: The statutory body must address the intersecting nature of disadvantage among people with disabilities, including factors such as age, gender, racial, cultural and linguistic status. This includes collection of data disaggregated
by age, gender, racial, cultural and linguistic status, and living arrangement to understand the issues and monitor improvements in accordance with the UN CRPD.