Sunday, June 25, 2017
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Advocacy for Inclusion Blog

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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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ACT BUDGET ANALYSIS 2015-16: Infastructure Saves the Day for Disability

Advocacy for Inclusion is impressed by some significant infrastructure commitments in ACT Budget 2015-16 which save the day for disability spending overall. Without these initiatives this budget would be very disappointing.


While the Chief Minister has made a commitment to advancing social inclusion and equality, specific initiatives for people with disabilities are scarce. In particular, the ACT Government continues its support for non-human rights compliant disability service models, which will hinder real inclusion of people with disabilities in the community, and can be phased out with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.


Positive initiatives:


1.    Redevelopment of the Supreme Court will improve access to justice for people with disabilities. This will ensure that people with disabilities can finally participate across all areas of the justice system, including jury service.

2.    Enhanced Legal Aid Services for people who cannot afford private legal representation.

3.    Extra resources to support more students with disabilities, including in the classroom and transport to public schools.

4.    Major renewal of public housing, which will mean better accessibility for people with disabilities who are the single largest tenancy group.

5.    Funding attached to the Out of Home Care Strategy “A Step Up for our Kids”, which has real potential to benefit parents and children with disabilities.

6.    Establishment of the lifetime care and support scheme for survivors of motor vehicle accidents.

7.    Disability services indexation for the NDIS transition.


Key concerns:


1.    Continued institutionalisation – new respite facility


A further $1.6 million is committed to a congregate respite facility for young people, a model which will continue the legacy of social exclusion for people with disabilities. This is a backward step for the human rights of people with disabilities, and repeats the mistake made in last year’s budget. The NDIS will enable innovative and inclusive respite programs to evolve for families and children. Funding should have been redirected to support families to explore these new opportunities, and toward other more progressive disability supports.


2.    No specific money for women with disabilities experiencing domestic violence


There are no targeted initiatives or extra funding for women with disabilities who are trapped in violent relationships. This is a key target group for both ACT and national plans to address violence against women. It is deeply disappointing to see no commitment to expand or develop the Crisis Service Scheme, which is a promising yet very small initiative from last year’s budget.


3.    Ninety per cent of people with disabilities still left in the lurch


The NDIS is on the ACT’s doorstep yet there is no clear funding or structural reforms to cover the people who won’t receive individual packages. There is more than $20 million to support agencies to transition and restructure for the NDIS, yet people with disabilities who do not receive individualised packages still have no idea about what community supports will be available to replace the existing system.


4.    Uncertainty about funding for independent disability advocacy


The demand for independent disability advocacy has increased dramatically with the roll out of the NDIS alongside the population increase of people with disabilities. Yet, uncertainty about the availability of advocacy continues, with no clear commitments in this Budget. Independent disability advocacy is critical in supporting people with disabilities to achieve good outcomes as NDIS recipients and to address issues of inequality and discrimination in the community. It is essential in shaping an efficient, effective and quality NDIS service system.



At a time of fiscal challenge Advocacy for Inclusion welcomes some solid physical infrastructure measures. We now look forward to collaborating on the development of programs that will mean real social inclusion and equality for people with disabilities.


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Submission to the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework Consultation

The government recently undertook community consultation on a quality and safeguards framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). In our submission, we highlighted powerlessness as the biggest risk to the wellbeing and safety of people with disabilities in their support arrangements.

In a context where people with disabilities face extreme socioeconomic and political inequalities, they are at heightened risk of power abuses and victimisation. As noted in the consultation paper, people with disabilities have traditionally had very little market power, and they are often unable to speak up or make complaints for fear of repercussions. The NDIS provides a framework for increased control and choice. However, a significant amount of support and work is needed to ensure that this translates to practice in the new system.


Control and choice cannot be achieved through regulating people with disabilities with paternalistic and controlling policies and structures. A quality and safeguarding framework should be focused on enhancing meaningful and tangible support for people with disabilities to exercise self-determination, coupled with robust accountability, transparency and monitoring systems for service providers.


In our submission we recommended:


1.    Increase funding to all six forms of independent community based disability advocacy to meet demand, which will continue to increase with the roll out of the NDIS, to support people with disabilities to navigate and be heard in this new system;

2.    Establish an independent complaints body for all NDIS and disability services;

3.    Establish a nationally consistent mandatory reporting system with a view to at eliminating restrictive practices;

4.    Meaningfully engage people with disabilities as designers and co-designers in all NDIS and disability related systems, to enable real self-determination for people with disabilities.

View our full submission here.

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Critique: Apps for victims of gender based violence

Recently, several apps have been released for victims of domestic and family violence, which seek to empower women by providing information and contacts. For example, Daisy launched last month by the Australian Government provides a list of specialist sexual assault, and domestic and family violence services in the woman’s local area.


Easy access to information and support contacts is vital. With the rise in technology, it’s logical and perhaps necessary to use these platforms to support victims. However, these apps are only useful to women who have access to technology, the skills to navigate this technology, and a level of literacy (specifically English literacy for the apps discussed here). This means that many of the most marginalised and isolated women who experience the highest rates of victimisation, such as women with disabilities and culturally and linguistically diverse women, will not benefit from such initiatives.


In a context where government funds are being cut to support services for victims of family/domestic violence, the practical use of these apps is questionable generally. While Daisy purports to “empower women experiencing gendered violence to access services for their own unique situation” it does not actually provide access to those services. Rather it simply lists the contacts for those services. This is only useful if the support services at the other end have the capacity to respond to women seeking their assistance. This gives the government the appearance of “doing something”, while women are turned away from services at full capacity, and their phone calls are ringing out.


Some of these apps use language around “empowering” women and “teaching” women to “be aware”. It’s based on the assumption that if women smartened up, or did something differently they wouldn’t find themselves with a violent partner, or they’d leave. We know that this is just not true and continues to place responsibility on women to change their thinking and their behaviour when it is the perpetrators, most often men, who need to behave differently.


The approach taken by iMatter, released this year by Doncare Community services, is particularly problematic in this regard. It is targeted at enabling young women “to be informed, forewarned and alert to dangerous behaviour and to learn how to achieve and maintain personal safety, both physical and psychological”.


The app uses quizzes to raise awareness of whether they or their friend might be in an abusive relationship. I took the “what are the warning signs” quiz twice using two different combinations to get different relationship scores. I ended up with “yay! You’re in a healthy relationship” score the first time and “there are some warning signs that there may be issues” score the second time. Here’s an example of one of the questions:


When my partner gets jealous they…


a)    Threaten to hurt themselves, me, my friends, pets or family, or makes me feel like no one would want me.

b)    Try to make me jealous back

c)    Let me know they’re feeling insecure.


The first issue with this is there are only three quite prescriptive options. For this question, a woman might select option “c” if her partner lets her know that they are feeling insecure even if done so in a disrespectful or potentially violent way, because the first two options might not resonate with her. This would presumably give points toward a “healthy relationship” score. Even if her partner hurts her, she might not immediately identify this as a “threat” as in option “a”. For example, if her partner verbally puts her down or restricts her movement, rather than punches, kicks or chokes, which are the stereotypical images often used in mainstream media. This is especially problematic for women of minority groups, such as women with disabilities, because violence can manifest in ways that are different to mainstream ideas of violence. For example, withholding a disability aid or support, and misusing medications.


What I found most disturbing is when I got the “there are some warning signs” score, it goes on to say “It is important that you address any issues with your partner. As a couple you should be able to meet each other’s needs and work together to make sure you are both happy”. Perpetrators of family or domestic violence often make excuses for their behaviour, and/or blame the victim. This can make it difficult for the victim to identify that their partner is doing the wrong thing. This language seems to reinforce that the victim is in some way responsible for her partner’s (potentially violent) behaviour, and that she needs to find a way to work together with her partner to sort this out.


For these reason, I think the iMatter quiz could have a detrimental impact on how a woman perceives her situation, how validated (or not) she feels about her concerns, and how entitled she feels to seek help. I’m unsure that a quiz is at all the right format to support a woman to consider these things.


Overall, the concept of an app as a tool for “empowerment” of victims of violence will likely help some women in some situations to get vital information and contacts. However, it doesn’t stand out as revolutionary or particularly helpful in the scheme of a culture where victim blaming is still prominent, and actual support services are under-resourced. Many of the most at risk women will not have access to these apps at all, and if they do, they need meaningful support to be available to them at the other end for it to be of any benefit.

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Self Advocacy Plus Group

Advocacy for Inclusion has been facilitating the Self-Advocacy Group for several years now . It is the only group of its kind running in the ACT.

Over this time, the group dynamics and group structure have changed as people have gotten to know each other and the skills of the self-advocates have developed.

With the Group Home project starting, the numbers of people attending the self-advocacy group are predicted to increase and we will have an ongoing diversity in self-advocacy skills.

With this in mind and at the request of several of our self-advocates we are starting The Self-Advocacy Plus group next month. This group will meet monthly.

The goal of the group is to increase skills and confidence with public speaking and developing leadership skills to assist in mentoring newer self-advocates.

 So how will this happen? To begin with we will be looking at powerpoint presentations. Each self advocate will be individually supported to prepare their own poweroint presenation on a topic of their choice. The presentation will involve a set format with questions for the self advocate to prepare slides for. Once the slide show has been put together we will be working on delivery of the presentation to the group. Once practised and the self advocate is comfortable, the presentation will be filmed. This will provide the self advocate with a record of their huge acheivement.




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Advocacy for Inclusion welcomes Guardianship review in the ACT

Guardianship Review in the ACT


Advocacy for Inclusion is pleased that the ACT government has asked the ACT Law Reform Advisory Committee (LRAC) to inquire into the practice of guardianship in the ACT. We have advocated for many years for such an inquiry and have been particularly concerned that Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities changes how we should view the use of substitute decision making (article 12 CRPD).


The inquiry has been asked to:


The Law Reform Advisory Council is asked to inquire into the terms and operation of the Guardianship and Management of Property Act 1991, to ensure that the Act reflects best practice in guardianship law relating to adults.


The review does not include consideration of guardianship of children which is primarily a parental responsibility.


In making any recommendations, the Council should have regard to the General Principles established in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities focusing on the principle of respect for individual autonomy and dignity of persons, which is reflected in supported decision making frameworks.


The review will include consideration of:

1. The impact of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international human rights instruments, on principles for guardianship and management of property in the ACT;

2. The Act’s consistency with other relevant ACT legislation, in particular the Human Rights Act 2004, the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act 1994; the Powers of Attorney Act 2006 and the Disability Services Act 1991; and

3. Current policy trends in the area of guardianship and substitute decision-making in the ACT.


The Council will report to the Attorney General on its findings by 30 September 2015.



Advocacy for Inclusion was proud to participate in the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) Inquiry into equality before the law, by sitting on the Inquiry Advisory Body, and welcomes the references to its outcomes in the discussion paper by the ACT Law Reform Advisory Committee. It is particularly pleasing to note that the LRAC has referenced the ALRC’s proposed National Decision Making Framework which was developed in consultation with numerous stakeholders including the ALRC Inquiry Advisory Body.


We look forward to the forthcoming consultation process and encourage all stakeholders to participate, particularly people who have guardianship or financial management orders over them. Advocacy for Inclusion will be participating in this inquiry, and will be supporting our consumers and self-advocates to express their views.


This is a rare and welcome opportunity to reframe the rights of people with disabilities in the ACT and to contribute to greater independence of some of the most marginalised and isolated Canberrans.



References of interest:


1. Advocacy for Inclusion’s submission to the ALRC Inquiry into equality before the law


2. Advocacy for Inclusion’s report “Ask Me, I make my own decisions


3. Advocacy for Inclusion’s opening statement to the ACAT test case on a matter of law


4. Advocacy for Inclusion’s report on Supported Decision Making, Legal Capacity and Guardianship - Implementing Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Australian Capital Territory




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More independent NDIS support needed up front

Today Advocacy for Inclusion has written to all former individual advocacy consumers offering our support for their NDIS preparations.


Several cases have come to our attention that we found quite disturbing:


-        A support service not notifying our advocate that an NDIS planning meeting was taking place and accompanying the consumer themselves to protect the service’s interests during the planning conversation

-        People with significant communication barriers being spoken for by service providers or carers and not being given the chance to outline their own choices

-        Highly isolated or marginalised people not being aware of the NDIS and being coerced to cede their planning process to others

-        People being asked to agree to commit to a service provider before their NDIS plan is finalised

-        Service providers making arrangements that ensure they will accompany a person to their NDIS planning, rather than another less conflicted third party

-        Service providers giving consumers a printed list of the services they currently use so that they can “tell the NDIS this is what you will need” before a planning process has even commenced

-        Service providers applying for guardianship orders for a person so that their inconvenient choices weren’t actioned

-        Service providers applying for guardianship orders for a person so that the process was faster, once again to support the business needs of the service rather than the person’s needs


These are just some of the situations we have become aware of in the first 9 months of the NDIS in Canberra. Every day we hear new stories. We are increasingly concerned that people with disabilities do not have the level of independent support, free from conflicting interests, that they have a right to. Many are unaware that this support is available.


So, we have written to all our former consumers to offer them independent advocacy to understand the NDIS, to pre-plan their NDIS, and to sit alongside them through their NDIS planning process. We have already been asked to assist in recovering a number of situations for people and we realised that this demand will grow if we don’t act now.


Through our Self-advocacy Program we also offer ongoing support so that people are able to speak up and make the NDIS work for them in the way that they want it to work.


We are not receiving any funding to undertake the work, but we consider it to be of such importance that we are going ahead regardless.



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The new ACT out of home care strategy - what might it mean for parents with disabilities?

The ACT Government launched a new out of home care strategy this January, called “A Step Up for Our Kids”, with an additional $16 million committed to the child protection system over the next 3 years. You can view the strategy here.


The strategy introduces some positive changes to the system, including new services and a focus on preventing children from entering out of home care by improving access to support for families to care for their children at home. Advocacy for Inclusion is particularly pleased to see the following in the Strategy:


·         Intensive in-home tailored supports aimed at keeping children at home with their families, and at successful reunification for those children who have been temporarily placed out of home;

·         Recognition of the significance of disability among children and parents in the child protection system;

·         Recognition of the role child protection services should play in linking children and parents with disabilities to the NDIS to ensure access to appropriate supports;

·         Recognition of the particular need for access to placement prevention services among parents with cognitive impairment involved in the child protection system.


These are extremely important steps towards developing a system that is responsive to the needs of parents and children with disability. Article 23 of the Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities outlines that people with disabilities have the right to access the support they need to parent. Historically these matters have been overlooked by child protection systems, resulting in dire consequences for children and parents.


However, Advocacy for Inclusion remains concerned about the new focus on early consideration of permanent placement in out of home care for children.


Australian and international studies indicate that parents with cognitive impairment in particular (including intellectual and psychosocial disabilities) are subject to very high rates of child protection interventions and child removal, with issues such as prejudice, discriminatory attitudes and a chronic lack of appropriate parenting supports being contributing factors.


In our experience, learning difficulties and unmet disability support needs can be mistaken by child protection workers for non-compliance or total inability to parent.


For these reasons, we are concerned that these parents are at particular risk of having their support needs overlooked or misunderstood, and consequently their children inappropriately placed in permanent out of home care.


We are especially concerned that the system does not yet understand the often ongoing nature of the support needs among some parents with disabilities, and that this could be misunderstood as the parent’s failure to improve within the expected timeframe. Assessment of parents with disabilities must consider whether parents are providing good enough care with adequate and appropriate support, which may or may not be required on an ongoing basis. The acknowledgement of the role of the NDIS is particularly significant in regards to provision of this ongoing support.


Overall, we hope that the acknowledgement of disability specific issues in the strategy will lead to improved awareness of and access to disability related supports for parents and children in the child protection system. However, we know that there is still a long road ahead for the child protection system, and the community broadly towards recognition and inclusion of people with disabilities as valued family participants.

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