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People from migrant and non-English backgrounds tell royal commission of challenges accessing disability services

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Anaab Rooble was excited to have the opportunity to tell the disability royal commission about the lifetime of challenges she had faced, but even getting to the hearing proved a "nightmare".

The irony was not lost on Ms Rooble that, on her way to the inquiry, the lift at Melbourne's Southern Cross station was out of order and she almost didn't make it.

Speaking to the ABC, the 43-year-old — who wears a brace and walks with a limp — said that finding accessible routes across the city was always a challenge.

"I'm not disabled because of my disability," she said. "I'm disabled because of the infrastructure."

Ms Rooble was a witness at this week's disability royal commission hearing that is looking into the barriers faced by culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people with disability.

When she was 17, Ms Rooble arrived in Australia from Somalia as a refugee.

"I was told: 'You can never get married. You can never get a job'," Ms Rooble said.

Anaab Rooble looks at the camera while standing on her back porch.
Anaab Rooble says inaccessible workplaces have impacted her career progression.(ABC News: Daryl Torpy)

"I have faced many obstacles, but belonging to a society that has no respect for disabled people is the hardest."

When Ms Rooble was a toddler, a medical mishap impaired her right leg.

Unable to access prosthetics or orthotics in Somalia, she crawled until she was 7 years of age.

Ms Rooble told the inquiry that, even in Australia, every single day refugees with disabilities faced barriers in accessing education, healthcare and employment.

"In general, women need to break the glass ceiling but when you add other diverse layers, such as refugees, migrants, persons of colour, and disability, the glass gets thicker," Ms Rooble said.

With a bachelor of accounting and a masters in human resources management, Ms Rooble has worked for almost 20 years in the public service.

She's also the treasurer and a board director of Women with Disabilities Victoria (WDV).

Ms Rooble said that, along with convincing someone she could do the job, she always had to work out whether she could actually get there.

"It was not my disability that held me back in progressing my career, the barrier was inaccessible workplaces, which substantially impacted my career progression."

Language barriers

Unlike at other hearings, many witnesses during this part of the royal commission gave evidence through language or Auslan interpreters.

They spoke about the challenges people from non-English backgrounds experienced when navigating the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Advocate Esther Simbi told the hearing that there were also cultural barriers to accessing the scheme, including "stigma and shame".

"Some people fear being rejected by [their] community and that's why they are not applying for the NDIS," Ms Simbi said.

A witness speaks into a microphone at a desk in front of a large screen showing participants in the hearings.
Advocate Esther Simbi told the disability royal commission in Melbourne that cultural barriers to accessing the NDIS include "stigma and shame". (Supplied: Disability Royal Commission)

Ms Simbi came to Australia in 2005 after 19 years in refugee camps in Uganda.

Originally from Sudan, she acquired a physical disability after contracting polio as a child.

Ms Simbi said that, in some African cultures, it was hard for people with disability to have choice and autonomy.

She said that "gatekeepers" — who were often other family members — made decisions on their behalf.

Under questioning, the representative of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), Sarah Johnson, agreed there was a lack of clear information about the NDIS in different languages and the application process was confusing and frustrating.

Ms Johnson said the NDIA was reviewing its CALD strategy and its findings would be published in April next year.

Support services confusing

A woman, originally from Iraq, told the inquiry about her difficulties using an interpreter to get support and services from the NDIS while living in regional Victoria.

Known to the royal commission as ZA, the woman spoke about her 14-year-old daughter who was born in Australia and lives with the genetic disorder DiGeorge syndrome.

ZA said it was two years before her daughter's support coordinator with a service provider made them aware that they were eligible for formula and nappies from the NDIS.

When ZA confronted him, he offered her money and he said that, even if her daughter had access to "supports and services for 100 years, she would not learn".

Anaab Rooble holds a railing as she walks towards a train station with the railway behind her
Anaab Rooble lives with a physical disability and has to plan her trips to make sure she can access public transport and her intended destination.(ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

Ms Rooble — who is married with three children — told the ABC she did not want anyone to feel sorry for her.

"I take pride in my disability and see it as a blessing not a burden."

She was recently appointed to the Victorian African Communities Committee, which provides advice to the state government.

"I am a woman who wears a hijab, as I belong to the Muslim faith, a refugee, an African migrant, a person with disability and a woman of colour," Ms Rooble said.

"It is part of my intersectional identity and I would not trade it for the world."


Source: ABC

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