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Culturally competent communication in Indigenous disability assessment: a qualitative study

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-01-01, 00:00 authored by A Ferdinand, L Massey, J Cullen, J Temple, K Meiselbach, Yin ParadiesYin Paradies, G Baynam, R Savarirayan, M Kelaher
Indigenous people tend to exhibit a higher burden of disability than their non-Indigenous counterparts, and are often underserved by disability services. Engaging appropriately with Indigenous communities, families and individuals in the initial stages of disability assessment and planning is crucial in order to build trust and understanding of disability service models and ensure that Indigenous people receive support that is tailored to their needs and cultural realities. This article aims to identify key elements of culturally competent communication in Indigenous disability assessment and planning, and provide recommendations for strengthening capacity in this area.

This qualitative research was designed to involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at all stages and to reflect the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, people and families affected by disability and the community-controlled health sector. Semi-structured individual interviews were undertaken with staff implementing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) (n = 4), NDIS participants (n = 24), disability support providers and organisational partners (n = 19) and Community Connectors (n = 8) in Queensland and the Northern Territory of Australia. Key themes derived from thematic analysis included appropriate and adequate engagement of individuals with disability and their families, the role of trusted relationships, and culturally safe and appropriate communication during planning meetings.

Overall, the research findings highlight that a low level of cultural competence in the initial stages of the disability assessment and planning process exacerbated participant confusion and distrust towards assessment staff and the NDIS. Given difficulties in communication, participant understanding of the NDIS was generally limited. The necessity of culturally safe and appropriate use of interpreters was stressed, as was the role of trusted individuals, including existing service providers, Community Connectors and family members in providing a solid base for participant understanding of the NDIS.

Cultural competence in disability assessment and planning can be strengthened through multi-level engagement with the Aboriginal community-controlled sector and community leaders. Implementing mechanisms to enable the involvement of families, trusted service providers and Community Connectors can support a more meaningful understanding of individuals’ needs within their cultural context and in relation to their cultural roles.



International Journal for Equity in Health





Article number



1 - 12


BioMed, Central


London, Eng.







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2021, The Author