The Experiences and Perspectives of People with Disability From Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds

Joint submission to the Disability Royal Commission by PWDA, NEDA and FECCA

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Disability Royal Commission) was established in recognition of the fact that people with disability throughout Australia experience much higher rates of violence and abuse compared to people without disability. Compared to other groups of people, people with disability experience violence and abuse in complex and multifaceted ways.

Australia is a diverse nation comprised of numerous multicultural communities. One in every four people with disability in Australia is culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD). CALD people with disability, as a cohort, are at higher risk of experiencing violence and abuse when compared to the general population of people with disability. They are also less likely to have access to support.

CALD people with disability experience common forms of violence and abuse similar to the wider population, such as assault, family violence and sexual assault. However, they are also at risk of additional and compounding forms of violence and abuse due to factors relating to their CALD identities.

Cultural conceptualisations of disability

When people migrate to Australia, they usually bring with them their socio-cultural beliefs and practices. Sometimes, those beliefs and practices may act as a barrier for them, where they do not readily adapt to life in Australia. In some diverse cultures, disability is perceived negatively, or as a punishment for the person’s sins or the family actions in their previous lives. Culturally appropriate practice and expectations could see people with disability being hidden away from extended family, neighbours, and friends. In some cultures, parents and grandparents would disown children with disability and exclude them from their life, and from inheritance.

Often, disability and mental health issues have a perception of shame for the person and their family. There is a significant stigma around disability and mental health, which can be the primary cause of discrimination and exclusion for people with disability. In some cultures, people with disability can be perceived as a gift from God. Families, carers and the general community become overprotective of the person with disability, and do everything for them, believing they may be punished or rewarded in their next life for their good or inadequate treatment of people with disability.

Similar to Anglo-mainstream Australian culture, cross-cultural perceptions and understandings of disability often negatively affect people with disability from CALD backgrounds and can prevent them from navigating or improving their life.

CALD people with disability and their experiences of violence and abuse

Social and structural discrimination is compounded for people with disability from CALD backgrounds, due to barriers arising from an intersection of racism and ableism, and other factors relating to language, culture, migration history and experience, visa status, and ethnicity and religion.

Some CALD people with disability experience even further disadvantage due their age, gender, sexuality, and other identities. This significant marginalisation puts these people at great risk of experiencing violence and/or abuse.

Although there is no known prevalence data on violence against people with disability from CALD backgrounds, research has found that immigrant and refugee women are more likely to be murdered as a result of domestic violence , and that cultural values and immigration status enhance the complexities normally involved in domestic violence cases. People recognise that CALD women with disability are less likely than other women to report acts of violence, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault, due to multiple and intersecting barriers, which include linguistic barriers, cultural barriers and lack of knowledge or awareness of the Australian criminal justice system.

For diverse and complex reasons, people with disability from CALD backgrounds are less likely to understand and identify what constitutes violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation – within the Australian context. Faced with substantial barriers that restrict them from accessing and understanding critical information about systems, services, and supports, CALD people with disability are less likely to report or address harmful experiences.

The factors that contribute to violence and abuse being perpetrated against people with disability from CALD backgrounds are numerous. Some include:

  • lack of access to accessible information about rights, entitlements, essential services and available supports
  • lack of culturally and/or disability safe, inclusive, and competent service provision in mainstream and specialist service systems
  • lack of access to professional accredited interpreting services
  • fear and/or mistrust of government and services
  • fear of disclosure and/or retribution
  • place of residence and/or service setting
  • exclusion from the labour market and dependence on others
  • high prevalence of myth, misconceptions and negative stereotypes about disability, ethnicity, and religion
  • lack of effective legislation and policy direction, and government intervention.

The impact these barriers have on CALD people with disability, as a cohort, include:

  • extreme isolation and marginalisation
  • poverty, financial vulnerability and limited access to fewer opportunities
  • reduced capacity to participate in social, economic, political and cultural life.

Structural discrimination: a driver of violence, abuse, and neglect

Specific legislation, policies, and practices also directly and indirectly discriminate against people with disability from CALD backgrounds, exposing them to additional risk of experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation.

Lack of access to critical and accessible information within government and community-based programs, coupled with inaccessible service systems that struggle to be culturally and/or disability responsive, result in CALD people with disability being more likely to experience violence and abuse, and less likely to seek support.

Structural drivers of violence, abuse and neglect are numerous. Some include:

  • Strict residency and eligibility requirements which often result in people with disability from CALD backgrounds being denied access vital income protection, disability support, housing, and healthcare services. This leaves many migrants and asylum seekers with disability at high risk of financial vulnerability and human rights violations. For example: to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Disability Support Pension (DSP) people with disability are required to hold either Australian citizenship or permanent residency. For the DSP, harsh eligibility requirements dictate applicants are to demonstrate that they have lived for in Australia as a resident for 10 years.
  • The health requirement as set out in Australia’s Migration Act 1958, results in people with disability or health conditions (and family who have members with disability or health issues), having their visa applications refused. While all visa applicants must be assessed against the health requirement, the provision discriminate against people with disability as it unfairly assesses applications featuring disability, and sets standards people with disability cannot meet. CALD people with disability applying for a visa routinely experience significant emotional and/or physical ill-being. The long wait time associated with the visa application process, along with the precarious nature of their visa (and uncertainty if they have a future in Australia) are known to be harmful and cause anguish.
  • Immigration detention and Australia’s asylum seeker laws, policies and practices result in people with disability from CALD backgrounds experiencing severe and routine torture and ill-treatment. They have also been found to create serious physical and mental pain and suffering, and continue to cause life-long disability and impairments.

Preventing violence and abuse against CALD people with disability

People with disability from CALD backgrounds need their prevention frameworks to respond to violence and abuse in a comprehensive, strategic, co-ordinated, interagency, and cross-government way so they are truly preventative.
Strong mechanisms need to be in place to monitor and evaluate these frameworks, including adequate mechanisms for the assessment of the effectiveness of legislation, policies and programs for preventing or responding to violence and abuse against CALD people with disability.

To better support people with disability from CALD backgrounds, these frameworks and interventions need to ensure people have adequate access to:

  • accessible rights-based information regarding what constitutes violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation within an Australian setting, and where to access support when experiencing this abuse
  • accessible information that meets the needs of people with disability from CALD backgrounds, across all service settings
  • independent and accredited professional interpreting supports
  • supported decision-making processes, and other capacity-building opportunities
  • culturally safe, disability-responsive and accessible service provision, including complaints processes
  • the choice of mainstream and/or ethno-specific organisations, and bicultural workers
  • independent disability advocacy support, including impartial systems navigation support
  • essential income support payments to afford a basic level of social protection
  • affordable and accessible housing.


As a priority, the Australian Government needs to abolish legislation, policies, and practices that unfairly discriminates against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers with disability, and bring about more humane processes that afford dignity and fairness. People with disability from CALD backgrounds should be able to access and navigate service systems in Australia, on an equal basis to the wider population.

CALD people with disability, and their representative organisations, are keen to work in partnership with Governments to set the agenda, determine priorities, and practically develop and evaluate prevention and response frameworks.

Further information

About PWDA

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) is a national disability rights and advocacy organisation made up of and led by people with disability. We are a peak, not-for-profit non-government organisation that represents the interests of people with all kinds of disability. We have a vision of a socially just, accessible and inclusive community in which the human rights and freedoms of all people with disability are recognised, respected and celebrated.

Contact person

Senior Manager Policy Giancarlo de Vera
+61 413 135 731