Why the NDIS needs universal design

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.Emily Steel has written a thoughtful piece about how the thrust of Australia’s National Disability Strategy is languishing while everyone focuses on one small part of it – the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). She argues that the NDIS runs the risk of further marginalising people because it is still treating people with disability as needing special (that is, separate non-mainstream) treatment. This is where the concepts of universal design come to the fore. Yes, some people will need specialised equipment as part of experiencing inclusion, but that equipment doesn’t make for inclusion unless the person can use the equipment to merge into the mainstream. For example, a person with paraplegia needs both a wheelchair and a step-free entry to buildings. One is no good without the other. The good thing is that a step-free entry is good for everyone – inclusive universal design. Only a small percentage of people with disability will qualify for the NDIS and this is also why we need universal design – for everyone, including people with and without NDIS packages. See Emily’s article for some good points on this issue. Emily will be speaking at the 3rd Australian Universal Design Conference.  She is Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Wellbeing at University of Southern Queensland. 

Is the NDIS promoting inclusion?

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion. Is the NDIS promoting inclusion?While the political focus is on the NDIS, we are forgetting the National Disability Strategy. This strategy is for all people with disability, not just the few who will be eligible for the NDIS. Consequently, Emily Steel asks, Is the NDIS promoting inclusion?

Her main point is that the processes and outcomes of the NDIS can end up working against inclusion and perpetuating segregation. The NDIS aims to promote inclusion, but its very nature is singling out people with ‘special needs’. 

The NDIS is Australia’s response to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But on its own, the NDIS won’t realise disability rights. The model is built on the idea that people with disability are a ‘special’ problem. The National Disability Strategy on the other hand, is about mainstreaming and inclusion. The NDIS is about the individual and the National Disability Strategy is about structural change.

Where Is the National Disability Strategy?

In her article, Emily Steel discusses how the intent of the National Disability Strategy is left forgotten in the wake of the NDIS. To achieve inclusion we need a broad universal design approach to mainstream society. We need both the NDIS and the National Disability Strategy. In addition, we need to consider disability as an aspect of diversity. If not, we are still segregating and marginalising. 

The title of her article is, Different, not ‘special’: realising disability rights through inclusion in all sectors

Editor’s note: The NDIS supports a relatively small number of people with disability. So what can others expect if they do not qualify for NDIS support? Will the public and private sectors believe they no longer need to take responsibility for inclusion? All the more reason to support the push for universally designed environments, services, products and programs. 

The graphic, found on Pinterest, neatly shows the concepts of exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion. 


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