‘NOT ALL DISABILITIES ARE VISIBLE’ – 09/10/2018

‘NOT ALL DISABILITIES ARE VISIBLE’  by Nguyen Hong Duc

When I started out as RISE’s Ability Rights worker two years ago, my role is to find supports for refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities. What I found was a distinctive lack of services across the migration sector, only three out of 16 Migrant Resource Centres have programs for people with disabilities, of those three only one supports asylum seekers or newly arrived. The other two did Home And Community Care (HACC) for those of migrant backgrounds over 55-65 years of age; HACC is home care and support (not personal/medical care). 

‘Launch of RISE’s advocacy booklet; refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities. A document that brings together the voices of RISE members and an analysis non-intersectionality of the literature in the refugee and disability sectors.’ Link here

As for the disability sector, where is scarcity of knowledge on refugees where I am yet to find a mainstream disability service provider that has a refugee intake program. Publically there is no clear indication be it either on their website or when I call them if refugees or asylum seekers on various visas can access the disability service. Most if the information is in English and little if any information on accessibility. This is a one-size fit all approach to informing the public of services available.  I need to make it clear I am referring to disability services not mental health services.

The mental health sector is hard for refugees to access, that is psychologists and therapists, refugees are more often referred to the specific torture and trauma clinics. How they differentiate between invisible mental health disabilities and PTSD related mental I cannot say. What I can say is that more needs to be done to support invisible disabilities like depression and anxiety, eating disorders and emotional behaviours that are often not treated go undiagnosed, and seen as “just adjusting to a new life”.

I myself is a former child refugee from Vietnam, I have two disabilities, a hearing impairment and cerebral palsy. Here I am going to advocate that for too long refugee settlement has been separate to disabilities and mental health needs. This erroneous and amounts to structural neglect from the medical profession and the migration settlement services sector. This is why the silo approach to refugees and asylum seekers is detrimental to their health and wellbeing and the community. This is a critique of the standard operating philosophy of using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This drives settlement support. It dictates the literature on refugees. It defines government policy. 

I’ve witnessed the long-term detrimental abuse by the system that does not acknowledge the damage of silos whilst living in the Vietnamese community for 6 years. That of loss, grief, AOD abuse, child neglect, loss of self and ego etc. Refugee policy does not see the intersections between health and disability at all. Today the refugee communities are still subjects absurd binary. You cannot just be happy with a roof over your head, food on the fridge, and part-time job.

If:

  1. You need to remove shrapnel from your body.
  2. You need a new prosthetic, and the loaned one from detention caused pain from ill fitting.
  3. You need new vision equipment to read your emails.
  4. You are deaf in one ear from a bomb explosion.
  5. You have constant sleepless anxiety about the survival of relatives in your home country.
  6. Your ability to focus for more than one hour has been severely impaired because of torture.
  7. Your ability to use your written hand, and almost crippling back pains damaged from torture trauma
  8. Or for no fault but fate, you suffer form the effects of polio, in a wheelchair, having an intellectual disability or from a bad case of a disease from refugee camps, or simply the conditions of having to flee across borders where nature took is aim at the body more than the bullets.
  9. If you have a mental breakdown or co-medicate on AOD as a way to deal with trauma.

The public face to proclaim from both the disability and the health sector is that their organisation’s charter quotes or their code of core values acknowledge universal human rights and respect to different cultures.  But the sad thing is that services are anything but universal, or only universal to the point of generalized standardization to the norm. That norm is the Anglo-Celtic norm. By mainstreaming of service delivery is not equity or addressing social determinants. This is a denial of difference, and that refugees all have special needs and need to be case by case approach towards wellbeing both physical and mentally. This is why I have named RISE’s disability program Ability Rights.

Note: Please do not refer any of your “clients or members” to RISE. Self reform within your own organisation.