Without advocacy the NDIS will fail the most vulnerable (regardless of their funding package)

It is hard to believe that the NSW government has not made any provision for advocacy beyond June 2018. This means that a core disability support infrastructure is about to disappear leaving giant gaps of support in all areas not covered by the NDIS: the criminal justice system, health, education, transport and, most importantly, employment.

Disability advocacy organisations bridge these gaps. If people with disabilities are unable to access mainstream services effectively then how can the NDIS possibly work? Where does this fit with the rhetoric of “equity and access” or “choice and control” or “leading a normal life”?

Fabulous organisations such as the Council for Intellectual Disabilities (CID) achieve miracles on a shoestring. CID has been enabling people with intellectual disability to have their own voice on decisions that impact them for over 60 years. Last year it gave more than 350 people one on one support to help understand issues about health, the NDIS and the legal system. Along with other projects, they run 8 peer networks across the state empowering people with disabilities to have more say in their lives.

Another advocacy organisation, the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association (MDAA), focuses on people from a non-English speaking background. They provide individual advocacy and systemic advocacy. They help people to stand up for their rights, when people have problems with housing, immigration, school, work and disability services. They also run counselling services helping people with disabilities be more independent in their communities. And yet funding for their services beyond June 2018 also remains at risk.

The NDIS was never intended as a catch all. State governments should not be allowed to withdraw funding for disability advocacy. The recent Productivity Commission paper on NDIS costs drew attention to the rushed implementation of the NDIS and specifically the need for better coordination between the Scheme and mainstream supports:

The interface between the NDIS and other disability and mainstream services is critical for participant outcomes and the financial sustainability of the scheme. Some disability supports are not being provided because of unclear boundaries about the responsibilities of the different levels of government. Governments must set clearer boundaries at the operational level around ‘who supplies what’ to people with disability, and only withdraw services when continuity of service is assured.”

Stand By Me is a campaign run by the NSW Disability Advocacy Alliance, ‘a group of disability advocacy, information and peak representative organizations that empower people with a disability to have a voice.’ The Alliance has launched this campaign to make the public and government aware of the important role it plays within the disability community. Please read, sign and share their petition today.

We should be expanding funding for advocacy not withdrawing it. There is no economic, social or ethical rationale to do otherwise.

Without advocates we lose our social heart; we lose our ability to say we are a society that values equity. Without a strong independent advocacy program, the NDIA also loses any chance of long term market success.

About the author: Fran Connelley, MFIA, is a strategic marketer who specialises in the non-profit sector. Her book, How to Thrive under the NDIS – A Pathway to Sustainability for Service Providers is now in its 5th reprint.