WWDA Submission to the National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP) Consultation Paper: ‘Working Towards a Common Understanding of Advocacy’


In July 2006, the Australian Government released a consultation paper ‘Working Towards a Common Understanding of Advocacy’. This Consultation Paper formed part of the Australian Government’s Review of its National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP). In August 2007, WWDA developed a Submission in response to the Consultation Paper, and WWDA’s Submission is reproduced here. Copyright WWDA August 2007.


1. About Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. WWDA is run by women with disabilities, for women with disabilities. It is the only organisation of its kind in Australia and one of only a very small number internationally in that it operates as a national disability organisation; a national women’s organisation; and a national human rights organisation. WWDA is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability. The aim of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is to be a national voice for the needs and rights of women with disabilities and a national force to improve the lives and life chances of women with disabilities. WWDA addresses disability within a social model, which identifies the barriers and restrictions facing women with disabilities as the focus for reform. More information about our organisation can be found at our extensive website. Go to: www.wwda.org.au


2. Background

The Australian Government has funded disability advocacy services for over 20 years and during this time a range of advocacy service models have been developed. Opinions around the definition of advocacy, the characteristics of the different advocacy models and the intended outcomes of advocacy vary greatly, both within Australia and internationally. The Australian Government, through the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA) currently funds 68 disability advocacy services around Australia under the National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP). The NDAP is undergoing a process of review and a series of changes, some of which include: development of new Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and accompanying Service Standards; standard policies and procedures; and standardised criteria for prioritising access to disability advocacy agencies. The Australian Government is consulting with the disability sector on these changes. FaCSIA recently released its first Consultation Paper entitled ‘Working Towards a Common Understanding of Advocacy’. The purpose of the Consultation Paper is to facilitate discussion and generate thinking to assist FaCSIA and the disability advocacy sector to begin developing some common understandings around advocacy.

This document is WWDA’s response to FaCSIA’s Consultation Paper ‘Working Towards a Common Understanding of Advocacy’. The Consultation Paper is attached in Appendix One of this document.


3. Definitions & Context

The NDAP Consultation Paper proposes a broad definition of disability advocacy, defining it as:

speaking, acting or writing with minimal conflict of interest on behalf of the interests of a person or group, in order to promote, protect and defend the welfare of and justice for either the person or group by:

  • being on their side and no-one else’s
  • being primarily concerned with their fundamental needs
  • remaining loyal and accountable to them in a way which is empathic and vigorous.

WWDA does not consider this definition to be placed in a broad enough context for the purposes of disability advocacy.

WWDA believes that the current review of the NDAP poses a good opportunity to re-think the way that disability advocacy is conceptualised. WWDA believes that the NDAP, its goal/s, objectives and desired outcomes, should be conceptualised in a human rights approach and framework. WWDA considers such an approach and framework vital in the context of the recent adoption by the United Nations General Assembly, of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Australian Government became a signatory to the CRPD on March 30, 2007 and whilst signing the Convention does not bind a country to enact any of its clauses ‘it is a means of authentication and expresses the willingness of the signatory state to continue the treaty-making process’ (UN 1999) and further holds that the country must not act in a way that is contrary to the purpose of that convention.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities goes a long way in affirming the rights and dignity of people with disabilities and is potentially a powerful tool in addressing violations of their human rights. In this context, it affords the opportunity to serve as a potent framework to inform and guide domestic disability legislation, policy, programs and services – including, for example the National Disability Advocacy Program.

WWDA therefore strongly recommends that the definitions, goals, objectives and desired outcomes of the NDAP embed the intention of, and the values inherent in, the CRPD. WWDA therefore proposes the following definition of Disability Advocacy:

[Disability] Advocacy is a process of enabling and supporting people with disabilities to promote, protect, maintain and ensure their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Inherent in this definition (or way of understanding disability advocacy) is the fundamental notion that disability advocacy is about providing the mechanisms and structures which enable people with disabilities to ‘speak’ for themselves, and to do so in whatever way best suits them.

The Consultation Paper does not include a proposed goal of the NDAP or disability advocacy, although it does state that ‘the focus of the Australian Government in relation to advocacy is on achieving outcomes for people with disability that maximise their participation in the community’. In conceptualising the NDAP in a human rights approach and framework, WWDA would recommend that the NDAP have a goal which clearly indicates the long term effect, change, and/or purpose of disability advocacy. To this end, WWDA proposes consideration of the following goal for this purpose:

The goal of Disability Advocacy [the National Disability Advocacy Program] is to achieve fundamental social and cultural change to remove disabling barriers and ensure the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people with disabilities.

In employing a human rights approach and framework to the NDAP, WWDA would suggest reframing the principles underpinning the Program so that they reflect those principles on which the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is based. The principles are:

  • Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
  • Non-discrimination;
  • Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
  • Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
  • Equality of opportunity;
  • Accessibility;
  • Equality between men and women;
  • Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

4. A Human Rights Framework for the NDAP

The NDAP has to date, largely focused on funding an array of ‘services’ to provide ‘individual advocacy’ for people with disabilities. This model and approach is essentially about professionals and others invested with the legitimacy and power to speak and act on behalf of people with disabilities in pursuit of what is deemed ‘in their best interest’.

Adopting a human rights framework for the NDAP positions the program as a mechanism to assist in bringing about structural and cultural shifts so that people with disabilities can take their places in the broad landscape of social life endowed with the same possibilities and supported by the same rights as their non-disabled contemporaries (Dowse 2001).

In this context, WWDA would argue that Self Advocacy as a concept should be the dominant model/approach of the NDAP. WWDA recognises that the term ‘self-advocacy’ in relation to disability, is largely understood in the context of people with intellectual disabilities (eg: in Australia) and/or people with learning disabilities (as in the UK). However, WWDA believes that the values, principles and practices of self-advocacy have applicability for all people with disabilities, and are consistent with a human rights framework and approach.

Self-Advocacy, is essentially about people ‘speaking’ for themselves. Self-advocacy can be a practice which individuals can use to contest oppressive practices and structures within the social world. It can also represent the interests of people with disabilities in a collective manner (Dowse 2007, Meekosha & Dowse 2007). It can enable the formation of personal and collective identities, creating a sense of solidarity, purpose and shared strength. Through the practice of Self-Advocacy, people with disabilities can make a stand for legitimacy and argue for recognition of their self defined interests (Dowse 2007). Importantly, self-advocacy practice can include visibly challenging the meanings others give to disability and questioning the legitimacy of others to interpret ‘best interest’ (Dowse 2007).

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) makes explicit the ‘importance for persons with disabilities of their individual autonomy and independence, including the freedom to make their own choices’.

The NDAP, in achieving outcomes for people with disability that ‘maximise their participation in the community’ should therefore establish mechanisms and structures which enable people with disabilities to ‘do it for themselves’, and to act politically as agents in their own right. There is a need for the NDAP to support organisations run and controlled by people with disabilities in the pursuit of their collective interests, as defined by them.

Women with disabilities, for example have made it clear that in order to increase community participation of many women with disabilities, a significant amount of work needs to be done in areas of personal development such as self-esteem, confidence, assertiveness, as well as education and training around rights and so on. It must be recognised that for many women with disabilities, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, lack of awareness about their rights, experiences of abuse, harrassment and discrimination, all act as barriers to them ‘participating’ in their communities. In order to increase the community participation of women with disabilities, genuine efforts must be made to empower women with disabilities so they can take up opportunities in their ‘communities’. This empowerment may be achieved in diverse ways such as through specific training, support for education, and/or employment (WWDA 2004).

Women with disabilities have also made it clear that one of the best ways for them to develop knowledge, confidence, self-esteem and skills, is to work together with other women with disabilities on common issues. This promotes the development of personal identities, where women with disabilities are able to recognise the need for personal autonomy, and importantly, develop a sense of personal worth. At the broader level, it enables the formation of a collective identity, where women with disabilities are able to speak out about their experiences and take action to collectively improve their lives (WWDA 2000).

The idea of supporting organisations run and controlled by people with disabilities in the pursuit of their collective interests (as defined by them) is hardly new. The United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993, Rule 18) clearly articulated the need for States to ‘encourage and support economically the formation and strengthening of organizations of persons with disabilities’. Rule 18 (see Appendix 2) identifies the various roles of such organisations, and includes:

  • Representation of people with disabilities;
  • Participation in the development of disability policy;
  • Identification of needs and priorities;
  • Participation in the planning, implementation and evaluation of services and measures concerning the lives of persons with disabilities;
  • Public awareness to advocate change;
  • Skill development, mutual support, information sharing.

Article 29 (Participation in political and public life) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2007) similarly articulates the importance of forming and supporting organisations run and controlled by people with disabilities.


5. Conclusion

In proposing the principles and practices of Self Advocacy as a model and approach for the NDAP, WWDA recognises that there are some people with disabilities who may never be in a position to ‘speak for themselves’. WWDA acknowledges that the traditionally dominant model of individual advocacy used in the NDAP, will therefore need to be maintained in some way. However, WWDA would recommend that the NDAP investigate ways in which individual advocacy for people with disabilities be located and operationalised in a human rights framework, rather than a service framework whereby professionals and others are invested with the power to ‘speak’ on behalf of the disabled person.

In some ways the WWDA proposal may seem radical. However, many of the human rights principles outlined here are already articulated in the National Disability Services Standards. However, when a social model of disability is ignored, people with disabilities are disenfranchised by misplaced interpretation and implementation of these Standards. Self advocacy can be fostered when Service Provider and Advocacy Organisations rethink the way they operate and re-direct resources accordingly.

WWDA therefore contends that it is imperative that philosophical changes are made to the NDAP, and that funding is dependent on these changes being operationalised by funded organisations.


6. References

Dowse, L. (2001) Contesting Practices, Challenging Codes: self advocacy, disability politics and the social model. Disability & Society, Vol.16, No.1, pp.123-141.

Dowse, L. & Meekosha, H. (2007) Integrating Critical Disability Studies into Social Work Education and practice: An Australian Perspective. Practice, Vol.19, No.3, pp.169-183.

Dowse, L. (2007) ‘Stand Up and Give ‘Em the Fright of Their Life’: A study of intellectual disability and the emergence and practice of Self-Advocacy. Unpublished Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy), University of New South Wales.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) (2004) Submission to the Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations Inquiry into Increasing Participation in Paid Employment. Available at: http://www.wwda.org.au/employsub.htm

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) (2000) ‘Taking the Lead’ – A Leadership and Mentoring Resource Kit for Women With Disabilities. WWDA, Rosny Park, Tasmania.


Appendix: National Disability Advocacy Program Consultation Paper

Working Towards a Common Understanding of Advocacy

Introduction

The Australian Government has funded disability advocacy services for over 20 years and during this time a range of advocacy service models have been developed. Opinions around the definition of advocacy, the characteristics of the different advocacy models and the intended outcomes of advocacy vary greatly, both within Australia and internationally. Funding provided through the National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP) currently supports six models of advocacy:

  • Citizen
  • Individual
  • Family
  • Parent
  • Self
  • Systemic.

Working Towards a Common Understanding

On 28 May 2007, the Minister for Community Services, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion announced that the implementation timetable for the changes to the NDAP would be extended. Minister Scullion has asked the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA) to undertake further consultation with the disability advocacy sector around the changes to the program. The extension of the implementation timetable for the changes to the NDAP provides a good opportunity to try and develop a common understanding around advocacy and the outcomes that are achieved for people with disability.

FaCSIA recognises that the actual delivery of advocacy services requires flexibility and innovation due to the unique circumstances of people with disability accessing advocacy support. The intention of working towards a common understanding of advocacy is to assist with:

  • facilitating better communication between FaCSIA and the disability advocacy sector around the changes to the NDAP
  • assisting FaCSIA with the management of the NDAP
  • providing greater clarity to NDAP funded agencies around FaCSIA’s expectations as a funding body
  • developing effective and appropriate performance improvement and Quality Assurance strategies for disability advocacy agencies
  • ensuring greater accountability through improved performance reporting and data collection.

Purpose of this Consultation Paper

It is important to note that the intention of this Consultation Paper is to facilitate discussion and generate thinking to assist FaCSIA and the disability advocacy sector to begin developing some common understandings around advocacy. It is not the intention of this Consultation Paper to make claims that one model of advocacy is better or more effective than another.

The focus of the Australian Government in relation to advocacy is on achieving outcomes for people with disability that maximise their participation in the community. FaCSIA is interested in working with the disability advocacy sector to better understand how these outcomes can be best achieved through the NDAP.

This Consultation Paper simply provides some basic information about advocacy and the broad characteristics of the different models to assist with an on-going process of consultation. The information has been sourced primarily from material gathered through the evaluation of the NDAP.

Some Characteristics of Advocacy Models

Discussions around advocacy predominantly occur within a framework of the different models that exist. Below is an attempt to list some of the basic characteristics of the different advocacy models.

Individual Advocacy

  • A focus on individuals in crisis or high need.
  • A focus primarily on the protection of the rights of people with disability, particularly through: the prevention of abuse, discrimination or negligent treatment of people with disability; and, encouraging people with disability to make informed choices.

Self Advocacy

  • A focus on supporting and empowering people with disability to represent or advocate for their own interests in the community, through: the development of personal skills and self-confidence; advice, information and encouragement.

Citizen Advocacy

  • A focus on the long term partnership or friendship between an advocate and person with a disability, called a ‘prot�g�’ who has a need for representation.
  • Advocates are unpaid volunteers who are ‘matched-up’ with a person with a disability who assume the role of an advocate and ‘friend for life’ to provide some of the emotional and / or practical supports required.

Parent Advocacy

  • A focus on supporting parents of people with disability to advocate on their own behalf and on behalf of their family member with a disability.
  • Parents of people with disability are supported to represent their interests and the interests of their family with a disability in the community.

Family Advocacy

  • A focus on supporting family members to act as advocates on behalf of a family member with disability.
  • Family members are supported to ensure that the best interests of the person with a disability are upheld at all times.

Systemic Advocacy

  • A focus on introducing, influencing or producing broad and / or long term change in the community to ensure the rights of people with disability are attained and upheld, through: o the pursuit of changes in legislation, policies and practices of organisations providing services to people with a disability; influencing community development; community education; working together with other groups, particularly with individual advocacy services.

Broad Definition of Advocacy

In broad terms, advocacy for people with disability can be defined as speaking, acting or writing with minimal conflict of interest on behalf of the interests of a person or group, in order to promote, protect and defend the welfare of and justice for either the person or group by:

  • being on their side and no-one else’s
  • being primarily concerned with their fundamental needs
  • remaining loyal and accountable to them in a way which is empathic and vigorous.

Questions to Consider

1. Is the broad definition of advocacy provided in this paper useful from your perspective as an agency providing advocacy support?

2. How helpful is it to continue thinking about advocacy in terms of ‘models’ or ‘service types’?

3. Would it more helpful to think about advocacy in terms of the outcomes it actually achieves for people with disability?

4. What does your agency consider are the key outcomes for people with disability that can be achieved through advocacy?