Disability in the Bush app aims to make NDIS more accessible in remote communities

June 29, 2020

For Mutitjulu local Max Woods, an electric wheelchair and a machine to help him get out of bed would make a world of difference.

But the information about whether he’s eligible for these things, through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, is not always easily accessible for him and other residents in remote communities, where English is not always a first language.

To try and combat that, Ninti One and the Interplay Project have developed a free app called ‘Disability in the Bush’ that features Mr Woods and others.

The Interplay Project’s Sheree Cairney, an Associate Professor at Flinders University, said the app was developed after six months of research by Ninti One in five different Northern Territory remote communities.

“Aboriginal Australians are twice as likely to have a disability as non-Aboriginal Australians, yet their access to services is quite poor,” Dr Cairney said.

“If people want to get out bush and want to be on country as part of their living a normal life, [we asked] what is it about the NDIS that can actually provide that to them.”

An Aboriginal man sitting in the shade with a cap on with Uluru in the background
Max Woods is featured in the new Disability in the Bush app.(Supplied: Interplay Project)

A tool for clients and carers

Dr Cairney said the research had revealed little awareness of the NDIS.

“[People we spoke to] had seen the ‘purple shirt mob’, as they called them, going around the community, but they didn’t [fully] understand what they did, or if and how they would be eligible [for help],” she said.

“We also spoke with NDIS support workers and staff, and they find themselves that they’re not [always] equipped with the right resources, so the app is a bit of a tool that those support workers can use [as well].”

For Tiwi Islander Freddy Puruntatamari, who is also featured in one of the app’s videos, an electric wheelchair would be lifechanging.

“Sometimes I get lots of trouble with my shoulder from pushing on this wheelchair,” he said.

Language translation

Tammy Abbott, the project’s community engagement officer and Indigenous lead, said the app could help to get vital information to people in remote communities.

“This app combines knowledge translation principles and technology and is designed by, and for, Aboriginal people,” she said.

Funded by the National Disability Insurance Agency, it features translations into two central Australian Indigenous languages, Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara.

Dr Cairney said there are plans for another three Top End languages to be included in the next few months, and then more in the long term.

She also acknowledged the challenges for the app in communities where there was no mobile phone coverage and no easy access to Wi-Fi.

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