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Jargon and the NDIS

By Bill Gamack - posted Monday, 17 July 2017


I recently enjoyed a chuckle while reading Sam Paior's translation of a statement released by NDIA about how the NDIS has been going so far, and how it will be improved.

Sam, a disability support coordinator who runs The Growing Space, managed to convert the 737 painfully bureaucratic words from the statement into a digestible analysis of the NDIS to date. While her translation was humorous and tongue-in-cheek, it brought to light some serious observations about the language used when communicating with NDIS participants and their families and carers.

The crux of the NDIA statement was this: we know the rollout of the NDIS has been far from smooth, we know we need to do better, we've asked for feedback on how we can do better, and now we're going to do better. Please forgive us and continue to stick it out with us.

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This begs the question: who does this complex, bureaucratic language serve?

It doesn't serve the participants whose lives are intended to be transformed through the NDIS. It doesn't serve their families and carers that desperately long for a brighter future for their loved ones, and would prefer to avoid digging through a deluge of complex language to reach that goal.

A quick flick through comments on NDIS message boards and Facebook pages reiterate this point 100-fold, with comments like, "I got a headache trying to read this statement" and, "I didn't bother reading the original- just Sam's translation!"

Choosing to use language that make people's heads swim is a sweeping issue in our sector. Whether or not they mean to, many organisations fall into this pattern, and it doesn't help anyone.

At EPIC Assist (EPIC), we've always been very upfront with our goal: to get people with disability into meaningful, sustainable openemployment. We don't want to confuse people with our words; we want to spur them into action. We want to raise expectations, and show that disability doesn't mean you can't reach your employment goals and enjoy the many benefits of having a job.

There's no disputing that many NDIS participants and their families feel real disdain towards providers and other organisations that exist to help them. Many have been painted an irresistible picture of possibilities, only to find themselves feeling dejected after promises are broken.

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Then it's a case of once bitten, twice shy; with participants and their families treading with extreme caution for all future NDIS interactions. All talk and no action does nothing but breed animosity in people that have come to you looking for help.

That's not EPIC. Our participants come to us seeking support, and we treat that as a genuine responsibility. We will never make promises we can't keep, or turn our back on people who have come to us for help. But of course words mean nothing if they don't translate directly into actions.

Since we've been delivering the NDIS, 7 out of 10 of our NDIS participants are still in work two years later. They are actively involved in their communities, making money, building their confidence and opening doors that lead to a more fulfilling life.

I remain certain that the NDIS is what we need to improve the lives of people with disability, and their families and carers. And that will mean a better Australia for us all.

The steps the NDIA have taken in addressing the many NDIS issues proves that they too are serious about achieving real results. But please, do us all a favour and scrap the double talk.

People with disability and their families have gone through a lot in their lives, and they can handle an upfront, frank discussion about changes that directly impact them. Not only can they handle it, but being on the receiving end of the NDIS' teething problems, they most certainly deserve it.

Now that's the kind of message that really cuts through the torrent of white noise.

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About the Author

Bill Gamack has been CEO of disability employment not-for-profit EPIC Assist for four years, and is passionate about helping people with disability secure meaningful, sustainable work. Bill also has family experience with disability, and understands the challenges faced by participants and families in seeking the services needed to achieve success.

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