The challenges of appropriate service provision with Aboriginal people with disability from remote communities in Central Australia

Ms Heather Jensen1, Dr Angela  Dew2, Dr  John  Gilroy3, Dr Rebecca  Barton3, Professor Michelle  Lincoln3, Ms Lee Ryall4, Ass. Professor Kerry  Taylor5, Professor Vicki Flood3, Ms Kim  McCrae4

1Centre For Remote Health,  Flinders University, Alice Springs, Australia, 2University of NSW, Kensington, Australia, 3University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, 4Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council, Alice Springs , Australia, 5Poche Centre of Indigenous Health, Alice Springs, Australia


Background: Aboriginal people’s significant connection to Country means that leaving their homelands to access ageing or disability services can have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. The rates of service participation by Aboriginal people with disabilities are lower, with geographic remoteness resulting in limited service access.

Method: In-depth interviews and focus groups were held with 47 workers from 16 agencies delivering services for Aboriginal people with disability from remote Aboriginal communities in Central Australia and regional centres to establish what makes for a good life for people living on the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands.

Results: Thematic analysis identified challenges in services provision, due to geographic isolation of these communities, systemic issues associated with funding and organisational structures as well difficulties in providing a culturally appropriate service.  The results highlighted the importance of relationship building between workers and Aboriginal people, families, and communities as well as gender protocols and communication. The majority of workers were non-Indigenous and employed in mainstream agencies.  Many of these participants were aware of the barriers their own cultural assumptions created and were working to overcome these.

Conclusion: For service provision to be effective for Aboriginal people with disability from remote and very remote communities, there needs to be greater understanding of the environmental, systemic, and cultural barriers between service providers and their clients. Agencies must work with community members to ensure appropriate cultural preparation for workers. The presentation will provide examples of challenges and ways to overcome these issues.


Heather Jensen is an occupational therapist and academic who has been working at the Centre for Remote Health in Alice Springs since 2004. She continues to practice as an occupational therapist in Central Australia, currently working part time at Western Desert Dialysis, an Aboriginal community controlled health service. While at CRH she has developed and delivers a number of topics in the post graduate Remote and Indigenous Health programs. Heather also has developed workshops on dementia and disability in Indigenous communities which have been presented around Australia. These courses provide opportunities for knowledge translation from her research into these same areas. She is also interested in models of allied health service delivery.
She was for many years the Northern Territory representative on the SARRAH Advisory Committee and continues to be an active member, is a Board member of Disability Advocacy Service in Alice Springs, and a member of the Central Australian NDIS Advisory Group.

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