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People with psychosocial disability living in institutional facilities face “significant” barriers

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

A new research partnership between the University of Sydney and People with Disability Australia (PWDA) has found people with mental health diagnoses (psychosocial disability) living in institutional settings face “significant barriers” to accessing the NDIS.

Commissioned as part of PWDA’s Engage-In project, the study examined the experiences of people with psychosocial disability living in institutions such as prisons, psychiatric facilities and boarding houses, and the systemic challenges they face when attempting to access the NDIS.


Using a rights-based research process, the study also highlighted the urgent need for new, ethical, and effective advocacy approaches.


“People with psychosocial disability living in settings such as prisons or psychiatric facilities are not empowered to access support services such as the NDIS,” said co-author of the study, Dr Emma Tseris from the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.


“Many feel that while they are in institutional facilities, they have very limited access to information about what services and supports are available. If they do have access to such information, being in these facilities contributes many layers of complexity when trying to access that support.”


PWDA’s Engage-In Project Manager, Leonie Hazelton, said “intensive, coordinated and person-centred” support was a crucial component of long-term success outside of institutional settings for people with psychosocial disability.


“This means people need an appropriate NDIS plan they can rely on to smooth their transition into the community. The inside of a prison or hospital is one of the hardest places to organise it from.”


Approaches to advocacy key to addressing access


With the aim of clarifying the practices and processes that best facilitate access to the NDIS and other supports in institutional settings, the research study involved a series of action research meetings with two groups of participants, The Project Advisory Group (PAG) consisted of PWDA staff and people with lived experience of psychosocial disability in institutional settings. The Community of Practice (COP) consisted of service providers, advocates and lived experience experts.


Though the study raised concerns about the barriers to NDIS access created by harmful institutional norms and the inherent power imbalance between people with psychosocial disability, disability advocates, and institutions, it also found effective approaches to advocacy have the potential to make a big difference.


Approaches to advocacy with the potential to effect change include:

  • Challenging deficit-based assumptions about disability

  • Building genuine partnerships and leadership opportunities for people with lived experience of disability

  • Developing communities of practice that have a ‘doing with’ (rather than a ‘doing for’) approach.

“When you really listen to people with lived experience in these situations, that’s when you can see how much work there is to do to make the NDIS equally accessible to all people with disability,” Mrs Hazelton said. “People with complex psychosocial disability are falling through the cracks in the system, and it’s not good enough.”



People with Disability Australia (PWDA) is a national peak disability rights and advocacy organisation made up of and led by people with disability.


Founded in 1981, PWDA represents the interests of people with all kinds of disability. We’re a not-for-profit community-based organisation and our members comprise a diverse range of individuals and organisations from across Australia.


Our vision is for a socially just, accessible and inclusive community, in which the human rights, belonging, contribution, potential and diversity of all people with disability are recognised, respected and celebrated with pride.


We work both nationally and internationally, and our work is grounded in a human rights framework that recognises the United Nations human rights conventions and related mechanisms as fundamental tools for advancing the rights of people with disability.

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