On Wednesday 7 June 2017, 15 blind or vision impaired Aboriginal people from across Australia met on Gadigal land in Sydney for the inaugural Aboriginal Blind Persons Gathering. First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN), the peak organisation of and for First Peoples with disability convened the meeting in partnership with Blind Citizens Australia.
The historic gathering was the first of its kind in Australia and discussions commenced regarding the formation of an Aboriginal Blind Persons Network.

Aboriginal blind people came together to share their experiences and this statement was formulated in consultation with the group before the meeting closed.

In making this statement, the Gathering wishes to highlight the issues that place unnecessary burdens on t
heir daily lives. In sharing their personal stories, the Aboriginal blind peoples gathering raised a broad range of issues, which include:

  • The NDIS does not operate consistently in supporting the needs of Aboriginal blind people, to the extent that many Aboriginal blind people have no idea how the NDIS operates in practice. This includes no understanding of how to communicate effectively with the NDIA to make the Scheme responsive to the individual needs of Aboriginal blind people.
  • There are particular issues around access in non-urban areas (regional and remote) which the Gathering believed that were not understood by those responsible for providing support services to Aboriginal blind people. There is need for an education, awareness and learning programs which draws on the experiences of Aboriginal blind people as a bridge between their needs and the services, or lack thereof, that are available to them.
  • One example of access issues which is heightened in non-urban areas is the inability to obtain specific disability diagnoses. This is important step in securing the appropriate medical and disability s
    upport services. Without a diagnosis, supports are generalised and unsuitable, if they are pIMG_4156rovided at all.
  • The availability of public transport continues to be a major concern.

These issues stem from a lack of understanding about Aboriginal blind people’s issues and needs within the disability support systems including the NDIS. Despite the issues, there is nonetheless confidence that by taking the time to listen to Aboriginal blind people, the solutions will come. In the words of one participant, “If we can get Coca-Cola into remote communities, we can get a decent disability service system in there as well”.

We acknowledge the support of the Australian Government in bringing this first-ever gathering of Abori
ginal blind persons together, we call upon them to take the next step and resource an ongoing partnership between the First Peoples and Blind Citizens community to specify a disability service system, which is timely, flexible and respon
sive to the unique needs of Aboriginal blind community within the NDIS and the
National Disability Strategy more broadly.

June 2017



Community Gathering in Tennant Creek – Barkly FPDN Advisory Group formed

On Friday First Peoples Disability Network was honoured to host a community gathering to discuss disability, services and supports and the NDIS in the community. It was wonderful to have social justice commissioner, June Oscar in attendance to speak alongside FPDN CEO Damian Griffis.

The meeting brought together some of the Elders and community members living with disability. It was a day of robust conversation which culminated in the development of the Barkly FPDN advisory group.


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Criminalising disability: Federal leadership required to end the indefinite detention of people with Cognitive and Psychiatric Impairment



Criminalising disability: Federal leadership required to end the indefinite detention of people with Cognitive and Psychiatric Impairment

The Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs tabled its report on the Indefinite Detention of People with Cognitive and Psychiatric Impairment Tuesday evening. The report makes 32 recommendations with a focus on law reform and coordinated policies and programs to support people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment outside the criminal justice system.

Damian Griffis, CEO First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) said: “The ongoing and indefinite imprisonment of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment is a serious abuse of human rights. We welcome the senate inquiry report and commend the senate for turning its attention to this issue. It is critical that swift action is taken in order to end the incarceration of people with disability and to provide appropriate support and services as an alternative to jail.”

Scott Avery, Research and Policy Director FPDN said: “By the time an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person with disability comes into contact with the criminal justice system, they will most likely have had a life of unmanaged disability. When disability is not recognised and addressed, contact with the police and courts are inevitable steps on a matriculation pathway into juvenile detention and prison.”

FPDN and La Trobe Law School were co-coordinators of the First Peoples Disability Justice Consortium’s submission to the Senate Inquiry on the Indefinite Detention of People with Cognitive and Psychiatric Impairment, which provided Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on the recurrent and indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment. The First Peoples Disability Justice Consortium is an alliance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations, disability, justice and legal researchers, Universities and Research Institutes.

Professor Patrick Keyzer from La Trobe University, co-coordinator of the Consortium, said: “The Commonwealth should implement all of the recommendations of the Senate Report, working closely and effectively with the States and Territories to assist these incredibly vulnerable people”.

Karly Warner, Executive Officer, NATSILS said: “The criminal justice system is increasingly and inappropriately being used as a default care provider for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, who have been forced into the criminal justice system early in life in the absence of alternative pathways,”

“Australia’s practices and policies towards people with a disability in the justice system fall short of international standards and Australia’s human rights obligations and, as a result, soaring numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability are cycling through the justice system where they are vulnerable a range of things including physical mistreatment, financial exploitation, and inappropriate decisions being made on their behalf.”

Scott Avery said: “Lasting solutions can be developed by bringing experts from both disability and justice together, standing side by side in all parts of the process.”

The First Peoples Disability Justice Consortium will be reviewing all the recommendations with a view to developing a plan for implementation and calls on Australian Governments to:

  1. Develop and support culturally-responsive, therapeutic and non-punitive sentencing and service outcomes other than prison for people with cognitive impairment
  2. Provide support for early assessment, diagnosis, support and intervention (including in the juvenile justice system) that prevents criminalisation and that is capable of identifying and addressing root causes of offending/anti-social behaviour.
  3. Engage in systematic, targeted, uniform, human-rights focused law reform that acknowledges individual needs
  4. Maintain political will and public sector leadership that is sorely needed to respond to the crisis of overrepresentation of indigenous people with cognitive impairment in the criminal justice system
  5. Develop more effective and properly supported policies and programs to identify and recognise people with cognitive impairment by the justice system
  6. Raise public awareness and knowledge in the community, within and across the criminal justice system and service systems to better understand why and how indigenous people with cognitive impairment come into contact with the criminal justice system.

The Indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment in Australia senate report is available online.

FIRST PEOPLES DISABILITY JUSTICE CONSORTIUM prepared a detailed submission to the senate inquiry. It is available online.




Unmet needs of Aboriginal people living with brain injury. By Damian Griffis

This week is Brain Injury Awareness Week. At the First Peoples Disability Network we say that meeting the needs of Aboriginal people with disabilities is one of the most critical social justice issues in Australia.

It is difficult to think of any more disadvantaged Australians then Aboriginal people with disability. FPDN co-hosted a forum in Redfern with Synapse and we hope to draw attention to the unmet needs of Aboriginal people living with brain injury.

According to the 2011 Census at least 50% of our people have some form of disability or long term health condition, the 2014/15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey has concluded that at least 7.7% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have severe or profound disability, this equates to approximately 60,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait people with disability who are eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The actual prevalence of brain injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is not known but we could be sure that the rate is at least twice that of the rest of the Australian population.  Brain Injury can occur for a range of reasons. It might be the result of an accident, violence or as a consequence of alcohol or substance abuse.  Regardless of the cause it is fair to say that the needs of vast majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with brain injury remain largely unmet.

Two leading researchers spoke to us and presented data and lessons learned through ongoing research. Professor Eileen Baldry has done some vital research into the prevalence of people with disability in the Australian prison system and Dr Clare Townsend shared with us the research she has done in relation to Aboriginal people with brain injury and homelessness in North Queensland. These research projects are culturally respectful and inclusive of Aboriginal researchers, organisations, Elders and Traditional Owners.  At FPDN we are grateful to both Eileen and Clare for bringing their extensive research experience to this most critical social justice issue. It is vital that we work towards meeting the needs of Aboriginal people with disability including those Aboriginal people living with brain injury.

The overwhelming messages that were raised in yesterday’s forum are ones often repeated among our mobs and at conferences and forums led by Aboriginal people.

In short:

Listen to communities, invest in support, invest in communities – the financial and human costs of a punitive and overly policed society are far greater than whole of community responses to disability and disadvantage that we all advocate. The numbers back this up. There are huge costs to the wider community, and to the individual for that matter, when people cycle in and out of emergency services rather than ongoing and responsive supports from an early age.

I’m reaching out to you today because we need people across the country to champion this issue. It is a national outrage that so many of our people are in prisons and that the rates are increasing. People with disability, including those with acquired brain injury have unmet needs, and too often disability is in effect criminalised. Aboriginal people with disability end up in prison or sleeping rough because they are rendered “invisible” by a system that does not respond to their needs. A responsive and supportive system would cost much less in both the human and ecomonic senses.

Damian Griffis gave a speech at the Redfern Community Centre on Monday 15 August for Brain Injury Awareness Week 2016. FPDN held an event in partnership with Synapse.

This opinion piece was published in First Nations Telegraph.