DRC Jargon Buster

The word 'jargon' inside a red 'no' symbol.Disability Royal Commission hearings sometimes use terms that most Australians aren’t very familiar with. We’re keeping a list of these and trying to explain them in plain language. Please feel free to contact us if you have suggestions for words that should be included.

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General Terms, Concepts, and Practices


Counsel: This is how a lawyer is referred to in a courtroom or an official hearing. There are two kinds of lawyers – solicitors and barristers. People who appear at a hearing as Counsel are barristers.

Counsel Assisting: Formally, this is the Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission. These are the lawyers working on behalf of and for the Royal Commission. They do a lot of different things. They try to work out the best ways for the Commission to look into different things, they make sure hearings run smoothly, they write reports, and they make sure the Commission decides on rules about how they’re going to do things and then sticks to those rules. Counsel Assisting appear at public hearings and ask questions of witnesses. The Commission can also allow other Counsel to ask questions, like a Counsel representing the State Government.

Senior Counsel (or ‘Queen’s Counsel’): This is a title, not a job description, generally used for more senior lawyers. It just means the Bar Association recognised that person as one of their best lawyers. Queen’s Counsel and Senior Counsel mean the same thing – different states might use one or the other. They will have QC or SC after their name in formal situations. Many of the lawyers who will participate in the Royal Commission will have this title.


Leave to Appear: This means a person or group has been given permission to appear at a public hearing. People ask for leave to appear if they feel the hearing is about something important to them, or if they feel they have relevant evidence to give. Leave to appear can be given to people if they apply, or if they are invited by the commission because of what they said in a submission. Here is the application form

Compelling witnesses: The Commission has the power to make witnesses speak at a hearing or give the Commission documents. Saying no without a good reason is breaking the law. It’s similar to how a regular court uses a ‘subpoena’. They have promised to use that power with care, and won’t force people with disability to engage with Royal Commission if they don’t want to, or if it’s not safe or accessible for them. These powers are mainly for making government bodies, businesses and other organisations provide evidence. If you make a submission about your experience as a person with disability and the Commission would like you to give evidence at a hearing, they will ask you to do that. You can say yes or no to this request.

Qualitative vs quantitative research: Quantitative research looks at numbers and statistics. It is often used to compare two or more ways of doing something. For example, how many people feel better when they take one medication compared to how many people feel better when they take a different one. Qualitative research looks at things that are hard to describe with numbers, like culture or family relationships. It is often used to find out how people feel about a topic, or what sorts of questions later quantitative research should be asking. For example, a researcher might talk to people in interviews or focus groups.

Disaggregated data: Data means individual facts or statistics. When people working with statistics aggregate data, that means they put all the individual data together. For example, a survey might ask a lot of people questions about their health, and then the aggregated data shows how often people in Australia get sick. After that, they can dis-aggregate the data – that means separate out pieces of it to find out about specific things. For example, they might separate answers from different postcodes to find out if people get sick more often in some places than others.

Disability Terms

AAC: This stands for augmentative and alternative communication. It covers a lot of different ways a person with disability might communicate. For example: communicating through mime and gestures, choosing cards with pictures that show what you want to say, or technology that lets you choose letters or words by tracking your eye movement.

Impairment: An impairment is a medical condition where a person’s body or mind doesn’t work the way people expect it to, like not being able to walk or having seizures. Some people use the words ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’ to mean the same thing. This is the medical model of disability. PWDA, and other disability rights organisations, use the social model of disability.

Neurodiversity or neurodivergence: A person is neurodivergent if the way their mind works is different from how most people expect it to – for example, because of autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, and other things. Neurodiversity is a word to describe how different kinds of minds and ways of thinking are part of human diversity, just like different kinds of bodies and cultures. It is also the name of the movement against using the medical model to talk about neurodivergence.

Psychosocial disability: This means a person’s disability is related to their long term mental health. The word psychosocial comes from the words “psychology” and “social”, to show that someone’s disability comes from the combination of what’s going on inside their head and how other people treat them. There is no hard line between short term mental illness and psychosocial disability. Find out more about psychosocial disability from reimagine.

Cognitive disability: This is a broad umbrella term for disability related to how your brain works, which includes people with acquired brain injury or ABI, people with dementia, people with intellectual disability or learning disability, people on the autism spectrum and others. People with cognitive disability may need support with communication, planning, remembering things, or looking after themselves. They often face barriers to accessing information and social inclusion.

Legal capacity: When a person has legal capacity, that means the law says they have the right to make decisions about issues that affect them like property, contracts, and jobs. They are legally allowed to do things like sign contracts for themselves, get married and vote. All adults have legal capacity by default, but in some cases the law can take away a person’s legal capacity, or say they have legal capacity in some areas but not others. See Substitute decision-making, Guardianship and Administration below.

The Government has responsibilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to make sure all people with disability are fully recognised before the law, as people with full legal capacity. Governments in Australia can ensure our recognition before the law by:

  • removing any policy or practice that denies or lessens legal capacity
  • making sure new laws recognise people with disability equally and assume our legal capacity
  • putting supported decision-making into practice, to replace outdated models of substitute decision-making like guardianship (see below).

Find out more about the right to make decisions from Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA). You can also find a Legal Capacity Factsheet on the DPOA website.

Supported decision-making: This is when someone supports a person to make a decision, such as by helping them to:

  • find and understand important information about the decision they need to make
  • figure out what options they can choose between
  • think about what might happen if they choose an option
  • weigh up the pros and cons.

Decision-making support can come from a friend or family member, or a formal support person like an advocate or disability support worker. You can listen to a series of short podcasts about supported decision-making created by Advocacy for Inclusion.

Substitute decision-making, Guardianship and Administration: Substitute decision-making is when someone legally makes a decision for or instead of another person, in the same way a parent can make decisions for their child. A legal tribunal can appoint someone to do this after deciding the person can’t make the decision on their own. This can be just to make one particular decision, such as whether to have a certain medical treatment. Or the tribunal can appoint a Guardian and/or Administrator to make all of this person’s decisions about certain things – which often happens to people with intellectual disability, dementia, acquired brain injury or similar. An Administrator only makes decisions about money and property. A Guardian can make decisions in all other areas, or sometimes only a few specific areas if the tribunal says so. Sometimes the Guardian and Administrator are the same person. Another term for Administration is Financial Management.

Tribunals are usually supposed to make sure supported decision-making gets priority over substitute decision-making, and only move on to Guardianship or Administration if people have tried and failed to help the person with disability to make those decisions themselves. In practice, there often aren’t enough resources provided to give supported decision-making a real chance, or to help people improve their decision-making skills, because Guardianship and Administration are considered faster and cheaper. It can be very difficult to reverse a Guardianship or Administration ruling once it has been made.

The substitute decision-making law can be slightly different in each state or territory – find out more about the different laws and tribunals from Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA). You can also read more about guardianship from CID.

Restrictive practices: Anything that takes away your right to move freely can be a restrictive practice. Sometimes people call it a restrictive intervention. It can happen in a hospital, disability support service, school or aged care facility.

Types of restrictive practices include:

  • Seclusion. This means someone makes you stay in a room by yourself.
  • Chemical restraint. This is medication that makes it hard for you to move freely.
  • Mechanical restraint. This means something to stop you moving, like handcuffs, or taking away a mobility aid.
  • Physical restraint or physical force. This is when someone holds you in place with their body.
  • Environmental restraint. This means someone controlling your environment, like locking cupboards or rooms.

Currently, there are different laws in different states about when restrictive practices are legal. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has asked Australia to change the law nationally to get rid of restrictive practices. Find out more in the Forced Treatment & Restrictive Practices Factsheet on the DPOA website.

NDIS Terms

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS): This is the program that is supposed to pay for support and care for people with disability across Australia. People are eligible for the NDIS if their impairments are permanent and have a big effect on everyday life. There are different types of NDIS funding, like paying for equipment, paying for people to help you do things, or paying for making your house accessible. Each person on the NDIS will have a plan that says how much of what kind of support they get. You can self-manage your NDIS plan, meaning you arrange your own supports and the NDIS gives you the money to pay for them, or use NDIS funding to pay a plan manager to do this for you. Or, you can have the NDIA manage your plan, meaning support providers get money from the NDIS directly. Find out more on the NDIS website.

National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA): The government agency that manages the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 

National Disability Insurance Scheme Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS Commission or QSC): This is an independent agency which is meant to make sure NDIS service providers do their jobs well and keep people safe. They look into complaints about service providers, not about the NDIA itself. The Commission has been rolling out gradually across different states. The last state they are getting started in is Western Australia, in July 2020.

Local Area Coordinator (LAC): An LAC does not work for the NDIA. Instead they work for another organisation that partners with the NDIA to help people work on their NDIS plan and find service providers. Find out more from the NDIS website.

NDIS Jobs and Market Fund (JMF): A group of government grants for projects to help the NDIS market and workforce grow. It is meant to make sure there are more support providers for people to choose from when they are using their NDIS funding. It does this by giving money to projects that do things like help train people who want to work for NDIS providers, or support community organisations that want to start providing NDIS services. Find out more from the DSS website.

Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) and Supported Independent Living (SIL): These two NDIS funding categories are meant to replace the old system where people who need a lot of support with day-to-day life had to live in group homes run by the service provider that employed their support workers. This meant that if you wanted to change support provider, or move house, you had to change both at the same time. It’s easier to stay safe and live an ordinary life when these two things are separate. 

Now, SDA is meant to pay for accessible housing, either independent housing or a group home, and SIL is meant to pay for support staff, so people who have both can use them with different providers. In practice, there are still many group homes where the house is owned by the same organisation that hires the support workers for people who live there. There is not enough SDA housing available for everyone to move out of the old group homes. Another problem is that the NDIS assumes people who use SIL will be living together with someone else who needs the same kind of support, so it is extra work to arrange your plan to live independently.

Find out more from VALID’s plain language guide to NDIS Specialist Disability Accommodation.

Issue-specific terms