Friday, January 19, 2018
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Towards equality: Recommendations from the Discrimination Act Review

In 2014, the ACT Law Reform Advisory Council conducted an Inquiry into the scope and operation of the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT). Advocacy for Inclusion made a short submission responding to questions posed in the community consultation paper and highlighting human rights principles, the social model of disability and the nature of intersectional discrimination.

As we submitted, LRAC has recommended that:

-          the definition of discrimination be amended to encompass direct and indirect discrimination, and discrimination on the basis of more than one attribute;

-          the duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of a person with disability (or with other protected attributes) be made explicit;

-          reasonable adjustments should be assessed having regard to an inclusive list of considerations ;*

-          one Part of the Act be amended to include disability-based harassment, offensive conduct and vilification (and also such conduct in relation to other attributes);

-          the vilification provisions be expanded; 

For details, refer to LRAC’s Final Report – the Government is now considering its 68 recommendations (across 25 particular areas for reform).   

The current ACT legislation, its interaction with federal laws and its application in the courts and case law, are often highly technical – and the various potential outcomes of this reform process are similarly complicated.  Advocacy for Inclusion hopes this Review will result in more accessible and equitable protections for people with disabilities, and brings us closer to the “equal and effective legal protection against discrimination” described in Article 5 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. 


*= LRAC’s analysis favoured an assessment of reasonableness modelled on the approach taken by the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act, subject to refinements suggested by the ACT Human Rights Commission  (to take into account the ACT’s status as a human rights jurisdiction) and People with Disabilities ACT (to move away from the medical model of disability). As PWD ACT submitted: “assessment should focus on the access barriers and the required adjustments and not on the person’s disability” and “include the consequences of not making the adjustment or accommodation as well as the consequences of doing so”. )


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Access to advocacy for victims of violence, abuse and neglect

In a column in The Age on Tuesday, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass stated:

We must support the independence and decision making of people with disability, and never more steadfastly than when they make allegations of abuse. For those who require assistance, the role of advocates is of paramount importance. Yet we do not even have an accurate picture of how many people need advocates, let alone the resources to provide them.

The column summarises some of the findings of the recent investigation into disability abuse reporting conducted by the Ombudsman. (See their website for Easy English versions or a 10 minute YouTube presentation).

The Phase 2 report (released in early December) reiterated that there is a critical role for advocate to assist people with disabilities to report abuse, and a “pressing need for a comprehensive assessment of the need for advocacy services in Victoria”. 

Although this Report focuses on the situation in one state, the violence and abuse experienced by people with disabilities is clearly not confined to one jurisdiction but an urgent nationwide issue. This was reaffirmed in late November with the release of the Federal Senate Committee Report from the recent Inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings.

This report included a chapter focused on advocacy and demonstrated a strong appreciation of the crucial role that advocates play in assisting people with disabilities to identify and report violence, abuse and neglect. Our Submission to the Inquiry was referenced several times and our CEO’s appearance before the Committee was quoted throughout the Report. This input contributed to strong evidence of the stretched and uncertain resourcing of the disability advocacy sector across all jurisdictions, and the other barriers to accessing independent advocacy for people with disabilities:

“…about half of the people we have worked with over time do not have natural support networks, so the expectation that some nice family member who is handy will step in is wrong. The expectation that there is access to an advocate is clearly wrong… We know that.” – Christina Ryan of Advocacy for Inclusion


“people do not complain—for many reasons. In the first place, they do not know their rights. They do not know they have a right to complain, and one of the few groups who educate people with disability about what their rights are is advocacy organisations...That really important arm of advocacy, which is self-advocacy by and for people with disability

themselves, almost does not exist. It is done off the side of the desk mainly.” – Mary Mallett of DANA


“A complaints process… is not going to be something that a person who is intimidated and living in fear is able to reach out for unless there is a way that they can seek assistance from someone is trusted and removed from that setting. … Who will speak up for them and who can they turn to? We think that one of the things that can help those people is access to advocacy. But where do they get that?...”  Michelle O’Flynn of Queensland Advocacy Incorporated

“The benefits of advocacy within residential and institutional settings require advocates to have access to, and a presence within, these settings. This depends upon receiving sufficient funding to employ visible and effective advocates, who are able to act and respond promptly to abuse and neglect”  - Advocacy Tasmania Submission

“Severe underfunding of independent advocacy can lead to cases of abuse and neglect going unaddressed as advocacy organisations build waiting lists” – David Craig of VALID

The Senate Committee supported the previous recommendation of the Victorian Ombudsman for greater funding for advocacy services, at a National level, informed by an assessment of the need across jurisdictions. It also specifically recommended that funding for self-advocacy programs be increased. For details, see  Recommendations 15 and 16, and 17 on the NDIS. 

We trust that future funding allocations and the ongoing development of National Frameworks (concerning Disability Advocacy and NDIS Quality and Safeguarding) will be influenced by these findings and reflect the paramount importance of independent disability advocacy in safeguarding freedom from violence and abuse.

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“Someone in my corner” – Independent advocacy saf

As the National Disability Insurance Scheme is being rolled out in Trial Site around the country,  Australian governments are currently working together to develop a National Framework for Quality and Safeguarding. 

The existing arrangements are a complex combination of National and State and Territory mechanisms. ACT working arrangements include:

-          the ACT Disability and Community Services Commissioner’s jurisdiction to deal with complaints about disability services ;

-          Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking);

-          the Official Visitor for Disability Services .

Last year, the Department of Social Services held a consultation on quality and safeguarding issues. The lengthy Consultation Paper and website outlined various proposed options, and encouraged people to state preferences and make comments or submissions.  Public meetings, workshops and surveys were also conducted.

Along with many other advocacy organisations across Australia, Advocacy for Inclusion made a submission.  We recommended extra funds be committed to independent community based disability advocacy, and that advocacy be recognised in the framework as a crucial preventative and corrective mechanism, at individual and systemic levels.  We strongly recommended establishing an independent statutory body for complaints, oversight and monitoring of all NDIS and disability services, and that people with disabilities be meaningfully engaged as co-designers of this new system. 

The resulting Consultation Report (released in November) has found overwhelming support among stakeholders for the independent complaints body option, and also a high level of support for an independent oversight body.

We are pleased the Report reflects recognition of the important functions of independent advocacy services - particularly, the important role of advocacy in

-          helping people to access and understand information;

-          supporting individuals to navigate the system;

-          helping people to understand their rights and raise issues if something goes wrong;

-          supporting people to communicate their concerns and through all stages of a complaints process;

-          helping people to “assess the pros and cons of different options and make informed choices” in planning;

-          strengthening people’s decision-making skills;

-          empowering people to advocate for themselves (through Self-advocacy);

-          identifying trends and issues at the systems level (through systemic advocacy);

-          monitoring the use of restrictive practices. 

Along with peer support networks, independent advocacy services were identified as particularly important to people with few natural supports. People with disabilities emphasised “the need for ‘someone in my corner’ who is independent of the NDIA and of providers.”

The inclusion of direct quotes from Self-Advocates and parents underlined these themes:

You know getting taught about my rights is the best powerful thing I’ve done. Getting taught by an advocate who knows about rights is the best. They give you confidence, it makes you feel good, like I can do anything in the world. They’re always on your side …. Always. [Person with disability, Tasmania, advocacy service submission]

People with disability can learn new skills – it may take longer, and they may learn in a different way, but they can learn – with the right support. Skills around keeping safe, like decision-making and speaking up when things aren’t going well are important safeguards for people… (It is) important that independent advocates are there to keep an eye on things and support people to speak up when they need to. Advocates can also help people to learn new skills by showing them a way to approach something and supporting them to do it themselves... [Parent, online discussion forum]

It is not yet clear how independent advocacy will be incorporated into the Framework. The Report stated: “What advocacy supports look like in the NDIS environment will be informed by the current review of the National Disability Advocacy Framework.” 

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Is disclosure a good thing?

I was facilitating a group yesterday. Our discussion was around disability and rights around employment. Two people in group – Jane and Helen had recently attended job interviews.

Jane attended her interview with a badge on that had words to the effect “please face me when talking and speak clearly”. Jane told the group, that she felt by wearing the badge it made disclosing her disability easier. It gave her an opening at the beginning of the interview that enable her to talk about her needs and how best to facilitate communication. She then used this discussion to show how with the correct facilitation she was suited for the position.

Helen has only recently started wearing hearing aids and is very self-conscious about people seeing them so she had styled her hair so they could not be seen. Helen felt her interview was progressing well until she brushed her hair behind her ears and her hearing aids became more visible. At this point the interview came to an abrupt end and she was told she would not be suitable for the position. No direct mention was made of Helens hearing aids but she feels the indirect disclosure was an issue.

Jane felt that using the badge to disclose her disability immediately to future employers is helpful. Helen believes her disability shouldn’t factor into whether she is capable of doing the position and chooses not to disclose her disability unless necessary.

Often it comes to personal choice whether a person chooses to disclose if they have a disability. A person with disability is not legally required to tell an employer about their disability unless it affects their ability to do the tasks that must be carried out to get the job done. State and federal laws do not allow discrimination against someone because of their disability. 



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New position statement: ACT permanent placement measures discriminate against people with disabilities

Advocacy for Inclusion has just released a position statement on the new Out of Home Care arrangements being introduced by the ACT Government. One of a new suite of measures is to change placement mechanisms to enable permanent placement to be arranged for children after 12 months in out of home care.


The new Out of Home Care Strategy includes some changes we have been advocating for, particularly funding for new services focused on supporting families and preventing children from being removed into out of home care. However, changes in timeframes for permanent out of home placement for infants will allow less time for parents to achieve change in their lives and to be reunited with their children. Similar concerns have been raised by other members of the community concerned for the impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.


Parents with disabilities will be disproportionately and adversely affected by this new measure. Parents with cognitive impairment (such as intellectual or psychosocial disability), are particularly at risk as they are already subject to high rates of child protection interventions and child removal.


Some parents with disabilities face specific barriers to learning and performing parenting skills and require support on a long-term or ongoing basis. Given the discrimination and access issues faced by parents with disabilities in the child protection system, such difficulties are often misunderstood as dysfunction or noncompliance rather than unmet need. There is a very real risk that the recent legislative changes will exacerbate misunderstanding and malpractice in the child protection system in response to parents with disabilities, resulting in further inappropriate removal of children from their families.


Parents with disabilities and their children should be given a chance to stay together, just like all other families. This can be achieved by allowing adequate time and offering appropriate resources to these families in a supportive way. A coordinated and targeted response to disability access barriers and discrimination via a disability strategy for the child protection system is essential to achieve this.


Robust annual monitoring of the newly introduced permanent placement mechanism needs to be instituted by the ACT Legislative Assembly through its committee system. Regular monitoring should illustrate a reduction in the children of parents with disabilities being placed in permanent placement arrangements as better supports become available through both the Out of Home Care Strategy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.


The full positon statement is available on our website.




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Annual General Meeting - a new board

The 2015 Advocacy for Inclusion Annual General Meeting was held on Tuesday 17 November at the Griffin Centre.


The meeting elected a new board, launched some wonderful videos of our Self-advocates made by Erindale College students, and farewelled some longstanding board members. It was also a great opportunity for an end of year catch up.


The AGM also received the Annual Report for 2014-15.


The new Board is:


Jenni Vincent – Chair

John Koulouris – Treasurer

Ian Tunstall – Committee member

Sue Carbone – Committee Member

Jane Flanagan – Committee Member

Karen Connaughton – Committee member


The board will nominate a deputy chair at its first meeting.


Thanks so much to Dwayne Cranfield, Vincent McCormick, Melissa Guilfoyle, Dougie Herd and Kathryn Rodwell who have all stepped down from the board after many years of outstanding commitment. We shall miss you.



 I can look after myself better than anybody elseAFI team


Dwayne Cranfield chairSelf-advocate




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Implementing the National Disability Strategy

Recently Advocacy for Inclusion was asked to comment on the next draft implementation plan for the National Disability Strategy. We can’t give you details here because the draft was confidential and our comments must also be in confidence.


We were surprised that the draft plan had no performance indicators or outcomes. Rather it had vague statements of intention. We are looking forward to seeing more flesh on the bones and some real outcomes that we can all work towards over the next 3 years to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).


One suggestion that we made was to ensure that the CRPD Concluding Observations, and the critical issues raised at the Australian Universal Periodic Review overnight in Geneva, form the basis of the new implementation plan.


As the Strategy is the key high level policy document designed to implement the CRPD these 2 recent United Nations process will provide valuable insight into where Australia should be targeting its resources to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are progressed towards equality.


We look forward to the next draft implementation plan and also to a strong Federal government commitment to implementing the CRPD and the National Disability Strategy.


The Advocacy for Inclusion submission to the consultation on the draft implementation plan will be released as soon as we are given clearance to do so.


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A working example of Supporting Self-advocacy and seeing the positive in the seemingly negative.

A self-advocate has been attending our self-advocacy group for well over 18 months. Last month out of the blue we get a phone call. The conversation is clearly a hard one to have, I know that they don’t use a phone very often.  We start with simple pleasantries, I share that I have recently been away and ask what they have been up to. As the conversation starts to flow I remind them to talk a little louder as I’m finding it a bit hard to hear them.


“Hi, I just wanted to tell you I don’t want to come to the self-advocacy group anymore……”


My response is to take a deep breath to stop myself flapping with excitement. (Excitement? Keep reading as to why)


A summary of the next part of the conversation:

“I’m sorry to hear that you will not be coming along any more but thank you for letting us know. Congratulations on putting all your self-advocacy skills together. It must have taken a lot of courage to call. You have made this decision, you have called me and you have given me your message clearly and assertively. Thank you for showing me the skills that we have learnt, improved and practiced over the past 18 months. I’m sorry that you will not be attending any more, I will miss our chats but yes this is your choice and your decision and we respect that. We would really like it if you kept in contact”


I get off the phone and do the held off happy dance. Whilst I’m sad that we have lost a member of our group, to be honest this is what the group is there for – this is a huge success.

A person has learnt to speak up for themselves and learnt to do it well. Two years ago this same person would not have said anything. They would have sat there silent, eyes downcast and become agitated.


We have seen our numbers of people attending the self-advocacy group repeatedly fall and rise. People leave the group, new people join us and people come back. The reasons are varied but often they have started employment or volunteer work. They have moved into accommodation of their choice. They have joined other social groups. The long and the short of it - they have developed their skills and are out in the community using them. Definitely a positive not a negative.



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The power of language

Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides.

Rita Mae Brown, Starting From Scratch, 1988

I was involved in a conversation recently with a large group of people. The group were discussing positive ways to support people with disabilities. During this discussion it was agreed that it is important to focus on peoples strengths and to have an awareness around the language we use. The conversation eventually led to someone discussing “Capacity Building Workshops”. 

This brings me to my point: Language is powerful. The power that comes from one word in a sentence - it can completely change the meaning or the context of what is being said.  One word can turn a sentence into to a positive or negative statement.


Imagine if the word “Opportunity” replaced the term “capacity”.


Increasing a person’s opportunity to use skills rather than increasing a person’s capacity to use skills. It certainly becomes a more strength based approached rather than referring to a potential inadequacy.

Christina Ryan further discusses the use of the term “Capacity Building”  here





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Addressing the barriers - making equal participation in the ACT justice system a reality for people with disabilities

People with disabilities experience severe and complex disadvantage when interacting with the ACT justice system. Existing statistics and research indicate a highly disproportionate involvement of people with disabilities across criminal and civil jurisdictions.


This over-representation is evidence of a long term failure to recognise the considerable disadvantage faced by people with disabilities in accessing justice on equal terms to the broader population.


It is time for the ACT Government to recognise that the lack of specialist disability support in justice settings is a major roadblock to the effective and equitable participation of people with disabilities in the ACT in their own justice processes.


Justice system practitioners are rightly focused on application of the law and developments in their area of expertise. It is unreasonable to expect professionals working in the often pressured and evolving justice sector to possess, or acquire, the considerable skills and knowledge needed to effectively assist the participation of people with disabilities in legal processes. Instead reforms must focus on ensuring the need for specialist disability expertise is systemically identified and addressed through the swift provision of appropriate communication and other supports from the first point of contact between the justice system and a person with disability.


In our Submission to the ACT Budget Consultation Advocacy for Inclusion has proposed a model that harnesses existing legal sector resources and capacity while systemically augmenting them with a specialist disability response.


The Disability Rights Law Centre has commenced this work and is now seeking ACT Government support to harness the significant levels of enthusiasm and demand that have become evident so that we may continue to build an effective systemic response.




·         Recognise the specific disadvantage faced by people with disabilities in accessing justice and support holistic policy and program responses to address it.


·         Ensure the ACT disability justice response covers the entirety of the justice system and is not confined to criminal justice areas.


·         Disability justice reforms in the ACT must be coordinated across a range of existing initiatives.


·         The ACT disability justice response must be in keeping with a justice reinvestment and restorative practice approach.


·         People with disabilities must be supported to participate in legal processes concerning them, and supported to retain control over their own decision making.


·         Specialist disability communication support must be provided at the outset for any person whose legal capacity is in question.


·         Cease expecting existing justice system professionals to universally develop high level specialist disability expertise.


·         Justice system professionals must be trained in identifying when specialist expertise is required.


·         Support the systemic introduction of specialist disability expertise to overcome the barriers to equality of access to justice for people with disabilities.


·         Provide ongoing funding of $150,000 per year to commence responding to demand for the DRLC.


·         The forthcoming Disability Justice Strategy must contain a research strategy so that the true disability justice picture is better understood and responded to.

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first clinic for the Disability Rights Law Centre

The Disability Rights Law Centre has just held its first legal clinic for people with disabilities. Legal Aid ACT provided a lawyer and a paralegal, and Advocacy for Inclusion provided an advocate. The clinic happened at the Advocacy for Inclusion office.


There was a full appointment list for the 3 hour clinic, and some people also dropped in during the afternoon. The team looked at a range of issues including responding to an assault, child custody, health system matters, Public Trustee, and compensation.


It was a very busy afternoon with back to back appointments, but our advocate and the Legal Aid lawyer worked well together and made sure that the clients were able to say what they wanted to say and understand what they could do next. A few people have made applications for Legal Aid as a result. There were also some intakes for Advocacy for Inclusion to follow up.


We weren’t sure about the demand for the DRLC legal clinics, but it looks like people with disabilities do want this service. The next clinic will be on Thursday 26 November. You can make an appointment by contacting our office, or drop in on the day after 3.15 pm.


Thanks to Legal Aid ACT for partnering with the Disability Rights Law Centre to make this happen.

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Students supporting the voice of people with disabilities

Today is the day that we start the new project that has been under works with the Training team and Erindale College. 

We have been thinking for a while that we need to show the great achievements that self-advocate have done since being a part of the Self-Advocate’s group and courses they have completed.  These self-advocates have gained skills that have had a positive impact in their lives. We wanted to show other people disabilities, that with Self-Advocacy and Human Right skills what is possible, and that is where the students at Erindale College come into play.

We approached Erindale College Media Department if we could collaborate with them to help film past members of the Self-Advocates Group and courses, about “What Self-Advocacy means to me” (this is the working title, so it may change).  A group of Erindale students over the next month will be filming a group of members for two minutes film clips.  The year 11 and 12 students will be using this project towards their Media Studies course curriculum.  The training team will be there while filming to support both self-advocates and students.

The students, past consumers and the Training team are quite excited about this project; it will let the wider community see that Self-Advocacy skills are paramount to the success in the community and the roll on effects that having these skills can have on relationships, NDIS, and other everyday life issues. 

In doing this project will provide the students from Erindale College an understanding of Self-Advocacy, and to increase their knowledge.  So that students can use this skill in the future, in supporting people with disabilities.

We look forward to showing these films soon and I personally are looking forward to see the final clips that are created by the Self-advocates and the Erindale College students.


Photo Caption: Erindale Students from left - Ben, Zoe and Grace with Training Officer sharon

Photo Caption: Erindale Students from left - Ben, Zoe and Grace with Training Officer sharon 

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Representation, consultation and leadership: The right of people with disabilities to participate in legislative and policy decision-making processes

In August, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of person with disabilities released a Questionnaire focused on “the right of persons with disabilities to participation in decision-making” – that is, decision making at a legislative, policy or organisational level, through consultation, engagement and involvement, either directly or through representative organisations.

Disability organisations are recognised in the National Disability Strategy as “essential in promoting the rights of people with disability”.  Despite the UN Committee recommending (in their Concluding Observations in 2013) that Australia “take initiatives to increase the resources available for independent organisations of persons with disabilities” the scarce amount of funding allocated for representative organisations has been substantially reduced by the Federal Australian government. Independent advocacy, including self-advocacy training, is crucial to ensuring all people with disabilities can actively contribute to and participate in decision making processes, yet continues to be grossly underfunded. There has also been a failure to incorporate the perspectives of people with disabilities through their appointment within government and in other leadership positions.

In our ACT Budget Submissions, Advocacy for Inclusion has consistently raised concerns, and made recommendations, about the lack of representation by people with disabilities at both the local and national level. Additionally, we have provided governments with expertise on how to improve their engagement and involvement of people with disabilities at all levels including leadership.

In our Reply to the Special Rapporteur we underlined the need for governments to commit to leadership and decision making by people with disabilities, including through the commitment of resources. Until this commitment is made disabled people’s representative and advocacy organisations will continue to be called upon to retrofit and adjust policies and program development with their scarce resources. While some improvements have been made, they exist due to ad hoc processes. There is no current systemic commitment to ensure consistent and meaningful engagement and representation in line with the expectations of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We look forward to reading the resulting study, to be presented at the 31st session of the Human Rights Councilin March 2016. 

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What's been happening in Self-advocacy?

A lot has happened in the last six months and there are more exciting changes to come!

Wednesday Self-Advocates group will be moving back to the Griffin Centre next week. The decision was made to make this move to make it more accessible to the people living on the North side of Canberra; and to make it more centralised. We would like to thank the lovely staff at Woden Community Services for their use of the community room, and help for the past eight months.

In our time at Woden, over many sessions we have had a diverse range of topics and speakers. Here are just a few of the interesting we had; ACT Capital Metro to come and hear the Self-Advocates thoughts on the light rail, ACT Policing to discuss safety issues and one of our past Self-Advocates come to the group to talk about her experience in safely travelling around Australia. We have also had sessions discussing privacy, voting, money management, health and even planning holidays.

We will be starting in September with the "Everyday Self-Advocacy", a month of how self-advocacy skills can be used in everyday situations. Amanda will be facilitating the group, and everyone is welcome to come and meet some new friends and learn about Self Advocacy for people with a disabilities. The group will be held every Wednesdays in Room 4, Level 1, Griffin Centre, 1pm-3pm.

Then at the same time we will be asking for expressions of interest for the Self-Advocacy Plus group. That will meet once a month and discuss their opinions about everyday concerns and learn more about other aspects of Self-advocacy. This group will be for anyone that feels that they want a challenge and to expand their self-advocacy skills. We hope to make this group fun and educational, expression of interest close the 2nd September 2015.

For more information about our Self-Advocates Group, please check out


IMG 1156

Picture above: Self-advocates ask questions about policing and safety matters to Sgt.Brett Cunningham 

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Appearance before the Senate Inquiry into abuse of people with disabilities

On Friday this week Advocacy for Inclusion will be appearing before the Senate Inquiry into violence and abuse against people with disabilities in institutional settings. We made a submission to the Inquiry earlier this year and raised many key points. Our blog on the submission is also available for details of recommendations.


The key points we wish to raise at the hearing are:


1.      The need for a Royal Commission. If this Inquiry does nothing else it must recommend a Royal Commission so that a full investigation into the national picture for people with disabilities in institutional and segregated environments can be undertaken. This is a major national issue across all jurisdictions, and the only way to safely investigate the manner, issues, key perpetrators, and potential solutions is to have a full inquiry over a suitable length of time, with the capacity to subpoena and protect witnesses. The nature of this Senate Inquiry has meant it has had limited capacity to hear directly from people in institutional and segregated environments and limited time and resources to respond to matters raised.


2.      The continuing use of segregated and institutional environments. The NDIS provides a significant opportunity to address this, yet it is not being used for this purpose, and for housing it is prevented, so that people are still being forced into arrangements not of their choosing. Urgent attention must be paid to resolving this barrier to community participation and the fulfilment of the rights of people with disabilities to live with whom they choose, where they choose, and to participate in the community on an equal basis as everyone else.


3.      Violence and abuse is a difficult issue that most members of the community remain unaware of. The instinctive response of most people is to disbelieve how severe and widespread violence and abuse against some of our most isolated and vulnerable citizens is simply because it is just too awful to think about. As a community there must be some way of increasing awareness and understanding of what violence and abuse of people with disabilities looks like, who perpetrates it, and what is needed to support people with disabilities to be safe and to feel safe.



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Decision Making Skills Create Strong Self-Advocates

On average we make 35 000 decisions a day (200 of them are about food!).

Decision Making is a skill we may take for granted; but for the approx. 588,700 people with an intellectual disability in Australia, many day-to-day decisions are often made for them, without them.


We believe that everyone has the ability to make their own decisions.


In our recent Submission to the Law Reform Advisory Committee, Review of Guardianship Arrangements for Adults with Disabilities in the ACT, Advocacy for Inclusion commended the four high level principles recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission for their report Equality, Capacity and Disability in Commonwealth Laws :


·         Principle 1: The equal right to make decisions

All adults have an equal right to make decisions that affect their lives and to have those decisions respected.

·         Principle 2: Support

Persons who require support in decision-making must be provided with access to the support necessary for them to make, communicate and participate in decisions that affect their lives.

·         Principle 3: Will, preferences and rights

The will, preferences and rights of persons who may require decision-making support must direct decisions that affect their lives.

·         Principle 4: Safeguards

Laws and legal frameworks must contain appropriate and effective safeguards in relation to interventions for persons who may require decision-making support, including to prevent abuse and undue influence.


In 2009 Australia signed the international disability rights treaty (often called the CRPD), which requires countries to move away from guardianship towards methods that support people with disabilities to make their own decisions. To help achieve this, Advocacy for Inclusion has developed a unique tool that takes people through the decision making process either on their own or with support.


By stepping through the decision making process, people with disabilities can identify preferences and build skills towards independent decision making.

The SDM App recognises that the usual decision making process may involve other people that are close to you or the authority of a Guardian; so the SDM App has integrated a place to add your important people or a legal guardian.

This program does not make a decision for you but rather prompts you to consider the options and identify the risks and benefits so you can identify how you feel about a particular decision and make up your own mind.



The Supported decision making app underwent user testing from our consumer base:


“It can really help you make a decision”

“The buttons are easy to use”


The Supported Decision Making App is available now in the App Store for $9.99


Thanks to the Snow Foundation, Hands Across Canberra, and all the contributors to our Chuffed campaign for the funds to create the Supported Decision Making App


Want see an Android version of the Supported Decision Making App? You can contribute by donating.



Image002 20150806 012502 1

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The Right to Equality

You may be aware of the current review of ACT Guardianship arrangements for adult people with disabilities (See the Easy English Booklet – Making decisions about your life). You may even have contributed to the process and told the ACT Law Reform Advisory Council what you think of current arrangements or how the reformed arrangements should work. (Submissions close this Friday 31 July 2015).


Followers of Advocacy for Inclusion will know that we welcomed this review - as we have long been advocating for major changes to both the laws of guardianship and how it works in practice. (See our past policy work on Decision Making). We have been particularly concerned that the current legislation is at odds international human rights law and, specifically, the standards contained in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).


Advocacy for Inclusion envisages adults with disabilities in our community making their own decisions, with the support they need to do so. This vision requires law reform driven by and committed to the rights of people with disabilities to self-determination, equal recognition before the law and equal enjoyment of legal capacity.


In our Submission we made numerous recommendations relating to 


-          the importance of the ACT taking action to make reforms that are fully compliant with the right to equality before the law (that is enshrined in Article 12 of the CRPD and also expressed in the ACT’s own Human Rights Act 2004 –Section 8). Full compliance requires moving from the current model of substitute decision making (which deprives people with disabilities of their decision making rights) to supported decision-making (which enables people with disabilities to make their own decisions with the needed support). 


-          how the National Decision Making Principles  (developed in the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry as a framework for Article 12 Implementation) reflect fundamental shifts  in our understandings of legal capacity, equality and disability.


-          peoples’ experiences with current guardianship arrangements, and the various problems with law, procedure and cultural attitudes.


-          how reformed adult decision making legislation and practice would operate, including in relation to decision making support, giving effect to will, preferences and rights, the duties of supporters, safeguarding and accountability and the use of “representative decision making” in very limited circumstances.


-          aspects of supported decision-making in practice, including the importance of long-term resourcing, information and training to support transition towards the implementation of equal rights in decision-making for people with disabilities.


Our Submission was authored by Christina Ryan and Policy Officers Ellen Read and Siobhan Clair. We would also like to gratefully acknowledge the valuable work of volunteer Fleur Hawes in researching recent law reform developments in Peru.


Follow us on Twitter: @Adv4Inclusion  and  @Adv4I_Policy

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Submission to the Senate Inquiry into abuse of people with disabilities

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 disabilities.


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.

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Announcing the Disability Rights Law Centre

Today Advocacy for Inclusion is launching the Disability Rights Law Centre. We are very excited about this new area of our work which is focussed on improving the justice experience for people with disabilities.


The Disability Rights Law Centre is a natural addition to our disability rights work advocating for individual people with disabilities, running a self-advocacy program, and the extensive body of policy work we have undertaken over many years. Now we are responding to the significant over representation of people with disabilities in the criminal and civil justice system.


National figures indicate at least half of the Australian prisoner population is people with disabilities, and that the number of prisoners with disabilities entering or leaving Australian prisons throughout a year is in the tens of thousands. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.


We are proud to announce Graeme Innes AM as the patron of the Disability Rights Law Centre. Graeme has been a significant contributor to justice equality for people with disabilities and is a keen supporter of the Centre's establishment.


We also thank our many friends in the law community who have enthusiastically embraced the idea of the Disability Rights Law Centre and supported us in its development.


Advocacy for Inclusion looks forward to working with you all on this new venture to make a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities.


Christina Ryan

General Manager

Advocacy for Inclusion



The Disability Rights Law Centre will:


Legal Services

Connect people with disabilities with legal practitioners – using our existing relationships and building new ones with community and private legal sectors.


Exploring the law

Test how the law should be interpreted, and how it needs to be changed


Establish legal precedents in understanding how the law affects people with disabilities


Interpret the law through a disability rights filter


Law Research

Accept student and volunteer placements on specific research



Our specialist training can meet your needs.

Support for law and justice practitioners to work more effectively with people with disabilities



Do you want to support the Disability Rights Law Centre? We’d love to have you on board.


What you can do:


Pro Bono Support or Externships

Provide pro bono legal hours to assist individual people with disabilities. 


Collaborate with us

Help tackle the big issues through developing case law. Help us raise systemic cases and change the way the law is interpreted.


Become a corporate partner

Make annual or regular contributions or consider a workplace giving scheme.


Join our network

Become part of a network of legal practitioners sharing experiences on leading practice in disability rights law. Sign up to receive bulletins and keep up to date on activities.



Make an individual donation to the Disability Rights Law Centre.










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Designing a model for the effective protection of human rights

Advocacy for Inclusion has made a submission to the process of Designing a model for the effective protection of human rights, recently undertaken by the ACT Government.


The discussion paper put forward a proposed model including appointing a President to oversee the new Human Rights Commission, and the appointment of three commissioners. While we broadly support this model we would like to see the new ACT Human Rights Commission focus on leadership and rights investigations as its primary activity, rather than on complaints handling.


All Human Rights Commissions handle complaints, for most disability discrimination complaints are their single largest area of concern, but without leadership on rights in the community this will never change. So, we would prefer to see the President and other commissioners put substantial time and commitment into leading the conversation, investigating systemic barriers to rights protection and realisation, and through this increase awareness and understanding of what a rights based community looks like.


We are particularly pleased to see that our campaign to have the Public Advocate position separated from the Human Rights Commissioner positon has been recommended in the discussion paper. It is critical that this potential cause for conflict is removed as soon as possible. Moving the Public Guardian function across to the Public Trustee was a recommendation in our ACT Budget 2015-16 submission that has been accepted in the proposed model outlined.


We also suggest having names for the three commissioners which reflect the critical groups in the community who experience most oppression, including people with disabilities, rather than naming functions like complaints handling.


Advocacy for Inclusion made 7 recommendations to the consultation:


RECOMMENDATION 1: establish a Public Guardian for the ACT and base that position within the Office of the Public Trustee.


RECOMMEDNATION 2: ensure awareness raising, community education and systemic change is seen as the primary role of the Human Rights Commission through allocating them to the President as a responsibility.


RECOMMENDATION 3: Align the commissioner roles and titles with key populations groups within the community – specifically those groups who most experience rights abuses such as people with disabilities.


RECOMMENDATION 4: focus on systemic human rights leadership through a proactive model of community engagement and investigation.


RECOMMENDATION 5: name the commissioners to align with specific population groups experiencing the most serious rights abuses including a Disability Rights Commissioner.


RECOMMENDATION 6: recognise and embrace experiential expertise as a high level qualification for Commissioner positions.


RECOMMENDATION 7: avoid focussing the work of the ACT Human Rights Commission on complaints handling.


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