“Be ready”: Community organisations urged to get behind the disability sector


The Final Report from the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability was released in September 2023, and made 222 recommendations in a 12-volume report, plus an additional introductory volume.

It’s a lot for anyone to get their head around.

For that reason, VCOSS conducted two online briefings in late 2023 – to delve into the Final Report and take stock of what it means for you.

In the first briefing, ‘What the Disability Royal Commission found’, El Gibbs from Disability Advocacy Network Australia urged mainstream organisations to “back our calls for a seat at the table” as government considers the Commissioners’ recommendations:

El outlined the history of activism and advocacy that led to the Royal Commission.

“There’d been decades of work from people with disability – particularly from women with disability – raising the issues of what was happening to people with disability in closed settings.”

What was happening included endemic violence – some illegal and some, such as indefinite detention, restrictive practices and involuntary sterilisation, legal and nominally regulated.

This culture of violence has been enabled by the marginalisation and exclusion of people with disability across society.

What this means for the community sector is that people with disability are important to consider in all these mainstream contexts.

The Commission’s findings shed light on the violence and segregation suffered by particular groups of people with disability.

El said, “If you are only talking to people with disability who look and sound like me you are doing it wrong … You need to be hearing from people with an intellectual disability, from First Nations people with disability, from people with experience from prison, people who have direct and current experience living in poverty.”

Discussing the findings of the Royal Commission – including high-level recommendations aimed at addressing “big picture inclusion” through governance reform – she urged the sector to see the recommendations as a floor, not a ceiling.

She addressed areas where the Commissioners could have gone further – including funding for disability advocacy, beefing up health regulations, and eliminating restrictive practices – and areas in which Commissioners were divided on key recommendations – including the scope and timeframe for phasing out segregation in employment, residential and education settings.

She also discussed the need for more links between disability advocacy and areas like homelessness services:

Similarly in relation to child and family services:

El said, “So this is where I am asking, how do we start linking these things together and understanding that disabled people are part of all of the service users that you have?”

She identified other questions mainstream organisations can ask themselves, with a view to improving inclusion for clients with disability:

  • Do you have a disability check box in any of the data that you collect? 
  • Are you making sure your services are accessible?
  • Is there imagery around disabled people in your comms?
  • Are you thinking about how to work with people with disability?
  • Are there steps into your service? 
  • Is there wheelchair parking? 

“I think some of these basic inclusion measures would make a difference to ensuring that people with disability know that they are both welcome, but also that they have been thought of.”

In the second briefing, Jen Hargrave from Women with Disabilities Victoria drew on on experiences from the Royal Commission into Family Violence to introduce the topic of ‘What’s next after the Disability Royal Commission?’

Jen urged sector organisations to prepare for a period of intense consultation, and possible challenges in shepherding the effective implementation of the recommendations:

She suggested that coalition-building within the sector can help maintain pressure and ensure that implementation aligns with the intentions of the recommendations.

A panel including Damian Griffis (CEO of the First Peoples Disability Network Australia) and Margherita Coppolino (Chair of the Statewide Disability Network for culturally diverse people with disabilities) then discussed the implementation of the recommendations.

Damian commented on the challenges of giving voice to the voiceless – particularly First Nations people with disabilities – and emphasised the need for outreach, especially in remote areas:

He made the point that the people most in need of help are those most often let down by the current system.

Inclusive spaces, collaboration, and partnership between organisations and self-advocates are incredibly important, as is the role of media in amplifying diverse voices within the disability community.

As Margherita put it: “We’ve got to make sure we’ve got all the voices at the table… so they can actually codesign any policy.”

Building on the themes of collaboration and coalition-building, a second panel discussed the importance of unity in the community sector to address inequalities and discrimination faced by people with disability, including in education settings and in the justice system.

Karen Dimmock from Association for Children with a Disability discussed educational disadvantage, particularly for kids in out-of-home care. Forty per cent of children in out-of-home care have a disability, and Aboriginal children are heavily over-represented.

Emily Piggott from the RMIT Centre for Innovative Justice discussed the challenges faced by people with disabilities in the justice system, particularly focusing on the overrepresentation of First Nations people with disabilities.

She pointed out that there’s a problem with how people with disabilities are understood and represented – citing, for instance, the underrepresentation of people with intellectual disabilities and acquired brain injury in Victoria Police’s accessibility action plan.

The conversation delved into what disability advocates and self-advocates need from the social services sector, emphasising direct investment in systemic advocacy capacity.

Diana Piantedosi from Women with Disabilities Victoria talked about “the paradox of care” in systems designed for justice. She called for active listening and collaboration.

“There’s this paradox called ‘displacement of care’ in these systems that are designed for people and care and justice, and as organisations that call that out, our greatest strength is to subvert that by caring for each other and making listening part of our active practice.”

There is perhaps nowhere this focus on listening to lived experience is more important than in relation to empowering marginalised people with disability to lead and drive change.

In the words of Damian Griffis: “How do we give voice to people where English is not a first language, or people who have a non-verbal way of communicating, how do we give voice to the deaf community, how do we give voice to deaf-blind people, how do we give voice to people with an intellectual disability people who have very serious psychosocial disability or mental health-related needs? Again, self-advocacy is the driver and the leader in many ways in giving voice to those communities.”

VCOSS is the peak body for Victoria’s social and community sector, and the state’s premier social advocacy body.

We work towards a Victoria free from poverty and disadvantage, where every person and community experiences genuine wellbeing.

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VCOSS acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country, and we pay respect to Elders and Ancestors. Our business is conducted on sovereign, unceded Aboriginal land. The VCOSS offices are located on Wurundjeri Woiwurrung land in central Naarm.