Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031 and Hearing Loss

Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031 and Hearing Loss

Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031 was launched last year and follows the previous 2010-2020 strategy.

We have been wading through this document, signed off by Federal and State governments, to see how hearing loss has been addressed in the national strategy.

Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031 outlines a vision for a more inclusive and accessible Australian society where all people with disability can fulfil their potential as equal members of the community. Its purpose is to:

  • provide national leadership towards greater inclusion of people with disability
  • guide activity across all areas of public policy to be inclusive and responsive to people with disability
  • drive mainstream services and systems to improve outcomes for people with disability
  • engage, inform and involve the whole community in achieving a more inclusive society.

These are lofty ideals, which we applaud, but the devil is always in the detail, so we have sifted through the strategy to see how Australia’s political leaders are hoping to address the growing issue of hearing loss in the community. We recognise that there exists a parallel strategy specifically addressing hearing loss in the ‘Roadmap for Hearing Health’ but believe that hearing loss should be included as part of the broader disability strategy. Next month we will take a closer look at the Roadmap for Hearing Health now that we are almost three years post-launch.

Australia’s Disability Strategy Outcome Areas

The strategy has been developed around delivering against policy priorities under a key set of Outcome Areas, these being:

  1. Employment and Financial Security
  2. Inclusive Homes and Communities
  3. Safety, Rights and Justice
  4. Personal and Community Support
  5. Education and Learning
  6. Health and Wellbeing
  7. Community Attitudes.

The Outcome Areas are interrelated and necessarily connected. For example:

  • improved education and learning outcomes lead to better employment and financial security outcomes
  • improved outcomes in safety, rights and justice leads to better health and wellbeing outcomes.

Hearing Health Policy Priorities

While this strategy document doesn’t outline or prescribe specific actions or activities, it’s helpful to look at where in the Outcome Areas and Policy Priorities hearing loss is mentioned and recognised as part of a range of driving factors informing these policy priorities.

As a matter of interest, “deaf” is mentioned once in the document, “hearing impairment” once, and “hearing impaired” twice. We recognise that the Strategy takes a broad view of disability defining it as “People with disability, including but not restricted to, those who have long-term physical, mental, cognitive, intellectual or sensory impairments.” This definition certainly includes hearing impairment, but, because hearing loss is such an invisible disability, as a consumer-driven organisation representing the interests of those experiencing hearing loss, we will always advocate for its explicit inclusion.

For this exercise we wanted to identify which Outcome Areas and Policy Priorities directly recognise hearing impairment or Deafness. We acknowledge that hearing loss and Deafness may be included without specific mention, but it was an interesting exercise to undertake in any case.

To recap, the following are the Outcome Areas and their associated Policy Priorities

1. Employment and Financial Security including Policy Priorities of:

  • Increase employment of people with disability
  • Improve the transition of young people with disability from education to employment
  • Strengthen financial independence of people with disability

2. Inclusive Homes and Communities including Policy Priorities of:

  • Increase the availability of affordable housing
  • Housing is accessible and people with disability have choice and control about where they live, who they live with, and who comes into their home
  • People with disability are able to fully participate in social, recreational, sporting, religious and cultural life
  • The built and natural environment is accessible
  • Transport systems are accessible for the whole community
  • Information and communication systems are accessible, reliable and responsive

3. Safety, Rights and Justice including Policy Priorities of:

  • People with disability are safe and feel safe from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
  • Policies, processes and programs provide better responses to people with disability who have experienced trauma
  • Policies, processes and programs for people with disability promote gender equality and prevent violence against groups at heightened risk, including women and their children
  • The rights of people with disability are promoted, upheld and protected
  • People with disability have equal access to justice
  • The criminal justice system responds effectively to the complex needs and vulnerabilities of people with disability

4. Personal and Community Support including Policy Priorities of:

  • People with disability are able to access supports that meet their needs
  • The NDIS provides eligible people with permanent and significant disability with access to reasonable and necessary disability supports
  • The role of informal support is acknowledged and supported

5. Education and Learning

  • Children with disability can access and participate in high-quality early childhood education and care
  • Build capability in the delivery of inclusive education to improve educational outcomes for school students with disability
  • Improve pathways and accessibility to further education and training for people with disability
  • People with disability have increased opportunities to participate in accessible and inclusive lifelong learning

6. Health and Wellbeing

  • All health service providers have the capabilities to meet the needs of people with disability
  • Prevention and early intervention health services are timely, comprehensive, appropriate and effective to support better overall health and wellbeing
  • Mental health supports and services are appropriate, effective and accessible for people with disability
  • Disaster preparedness, risk management plans and public emergency responses are inclusive of people with disability, and support their physical and mental health, and wellbeing

7. Community Attitudes

  • Employers value the contribution people with disability make to the workforce, and recognise the benefits of employing people with disability
  • Key professional workforces are able to confidently and positively respond to people with disability
  • Increase representation of people with disability in leadership roles
  • Improving community attitudes to positively impact on Policy Priorities under the Strategy

We identified one instance of “Deaf” in use to support the “Mental health supports and services are appropriate, effective and accessible for people with disability” Policy Priority under the Health and Wellbeing Outcome Area.

“For many Deaf people, the constant indirect and seemingly minor barriers to community participation can build up over time and have a devastating impact on long term mental health.” (Deaf Victoria 2019)

“Hearing Impairment” was found once: “Universal design and built environment accessibility often needs to go beyond access for people with physical impairments and should include design for other issues such as hearing impairment, cognitive impairment, psychosocial disability, or autism” (Senate Community Affairs References Committee 2017)

This was in the “Built and natural environment is accessible” Policy Priority of the Inclusive Homes and Communities Outcome Area.

Both mentions of “Hearing impaired” were used to argue that no specific measures were needed in the natural environment for hearing impaired people: “The natural environment is less likely to represent a greater challenge for hearing impaired people than for non-impaired people, because most outdoor locations and activities do not rely on audio communication. In outdoor locations, good clear and appropriate signage is important for both hearing impaired and non-impaired people.” (Self Help for Hard of Hearing 2017)

This appeared in the same “Built and natural environment is accessible” Policy Priority of the Inclusive Homes and Communities Outcome Area as above.

Also in the “Built and natural environment is accessible” Policy Priority we find “hearing loops” mentioned once.

“[B]y ensuring all communities have adequate accessibility infrastructure (hearing loops, ramps, etc.) we can build a more seamless experience for people with a disability, allowing them to feel more comfortable being in the community.” (Centre for Disability Research and Policy 2020)

Again in the Inclusive Homes and Communities Outcome Area section we do find the mention of “hearing loops” in the “Transport systems are accessible for the whole community” Policy Priority.

“Other key factors include access to emerging technology and point-to-point transport (e.g., rideshare), proximity of transport systems, frequency of services, information to support the journey (e.g., hearing loops and alerting devices), and getting to and from the transport (e.g., footpaths and walkways).”

“Hearing aids” are mentioned once in the “People with disability are supported to access assistive technology” Policy Priority of the Personal and Community Support Outcome Area recognising that assistive technologies can provide some support for people with disabilities.

“Assistive technology also includes grab rails, hoists, wheelchairs, hearing aids, text captioning services, home modifications, digital assistive technology, prosthetics and devices to support memory.”

While it would have been heartening to see more specific mentions of hearing impairment and hearing loss related terms in this 10-year strategy document, we understand there is a lot of ground to cover when dealing with disabilities in Australia.

We commend the federal and state governments for progressing this overarching document and look forward to reviewing outcomes under the strategy as they are delivered over the next 10 years.

Already several Targeted Action Plans have been developed with actions committed to. These include:

One of the outcomes of these Targeted Action Plans has been an initiative from the Queensland Government allocating budget for the Disability Peak Bodies funding program. This program provides funds for peak representative bodies in the state to advocate for and provide support and advice to their relevant cohorts. This includes funding for a peak hearing impairment body, and we are awaiting the announcement to see which organisation has been funded under this program.

While we will always advocate for a greater focus on hearing impairment, Better Hearing Australia continues to work with all levels of government to help deliver outcomes under the National Strategy and help improve the lived experience of all Australians living with disability.

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