Cultural and refugee communities struggling to access disability services in Australia


As of 30 June 2019, there were 24,023 people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds participating in the NDIS, making up 8.4% of all scheme participants. A similar report from Settlement Services International (SSI) in 2018 estimated that despite having similar rates of disability, CALD people access services up to 66% less than their Australian-born counterparts.

This significant gap highlights the increasing importance of providing culturally-competent disability services to meet the needs of the diverse cultural and refugee communities. The disparity in access to services is due to various factors such as language, literacy, acculturation, cultural, religious, and geographical barriers. For many CALD people, there is a complete lack of awareness around the NDIS and mainstream disability services.

The struggle for many CALD individuals with a disability is multi-pronged. There is the initial challenge of identifying and coming to terms with their disability. This can be particularly difficult if a stigma around disability exists in their cultural background. Other obstacles such as distrust of Government agencies, language barriers and geographic isolation make locating pathways to enter the NDIS and mainstream disability services especially challenging for CALD individuals with disability.

A report from the NDIS in 2019 stated that access and eligibility for disability services and support varied greatly between CALD people and non-CALD people. A higher proportion CALD applicants were found to be ineligible compared to non-CALD applicants. A larger proportion of CALD participants have cancelled access requests arising from “Evidence not provided” compared to non-CALD participants.

The far-reaching effects of CALD individuals not being able to access adequate disability services include:

  • Children (0-14yrs) are considerably less likely to be able to make friends outside the family, have a genuine say in decisions about themselves, and fewer attend school in a mainstream class.
  • Teenagers and young adults (15-24yrs) are less likely to have a paid job or have friends other than family or paid staff and baseline outcomes are also consistently poorer in the choice and control domain.
  • Adults over 25yrs have worse health outcomes compared to non-CALD individuals.
  • Families and carers of CALD individuals with a disability have poorer outcomes at baseline compared to the families and carers of CALD individuals, including being less likely to have a paid job or being able to advocate for their child or family member.

To bridge the gap in CALD community access to disability services, service providers need to consider implementing a cultural-competence framework. Culturally- competent and multi-lingual staff are important to help support CALD people with disability and their families to identify their goals and connect with community and mainstream services.

“Commitment to understand and be informed about the cultural influences of a person living with a disability can help build trust, enhance assessments, improve quality of life outcomes, and most importantly, uphold their dignity which are essential in the delivery of a person-centred service.” – Hanan Dover, Clinical and Forensic Psychologist.

If you are seeking culturally competent disability services, Psychcentral offers allied health and support services tailored to meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

For more information, please call 1300 856 779 or visit