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A Progress Update on the Disability Royal Commission

The Disability Royal Commission is set to be a defining feature of our sector’s landscape in 2020. Sara explores what has been happening so far, and what we can expect.

By Sara Gingold

Updated 15 Apr 202414 Jan 2020

This article is from January 2020. You can find our more recent coverage of the Disability Royal Commission.

The Disability Royal Commission is set to be a defining feature of the disability landscape in 2020. But if you are having a bit of trouble keeping up to date with it, I don’t blame you! The mandate is huge, and the pace is fast. So we have put together this little update. If you need a bit of a refresher on what this Royal Commission is all about, check out our article from a couple of months ago.

The Royal Commission is far from over, in fact it has really just begun. While we don’t know what the final recommendations will be, the Commission is publishing Issues Papers, Progress Reports and videos from the hearings, that give us some idea about what they are thinking. They have also (finally!) released an Accessibility and Inclusion Strategy which is definitely worth a look.  

So let’s get into it! 


The first Progress Report was released in December 2019. 

To be honest, for the most part it is pretty bland. But there are some interesting bits of information, including: 

  • As of December 10th, there have been 428 submissions to the Royal Commission. 
  • 33% of submissions were made by a person with a disability, and 43% were made by a family member. 
  • 1 in 3 submissions discussed issues relating to home and living, and a similar number discussed education and learning. 
  • Most of the submissions referred to abuse that had happened recently. 74% focused on incidents that had occurred since 2010. 


In November 2019, the Commission held a public hearing in Townsville to examine barriers to inclusive education. They have also released an Issues Paper on this topic. The main controversy at the hearing was over the role of special schools in the education system. Over the last decade, the number of Australian students with disability at special schools has increased. Many witnesses felt that these schools segregate students with disability, produce poor outcomes and deny students their right to an inclusive education. However, other witnesses, such as representatives from the Teachers’ Union, argued that teachers are already pushed beyond their capacity and that parents should have the right to choose the type of school their child attends. 

Other matters raised in the Issues Paper include: 

  • Physical barriers to education (including inaccessible communication methods). 
  • Discrimination against students with disability from teachers and management.
  • Prevention or discouragement of people with disabilities from enrolling in school.
  • Exclusion from school activities, like excursions.
  • Disproportionate suspensions and expulsions of students with disability.
  • Lack of reasonable adjustments, individualised support measures and flexibility in the curriculum in the mainstream education system. 
  • Behaviour management techniques used inappropriately on students with disability. 


In early December, the Commission followed up the release of an Issues Paper with public hearings in Melbourne to explore concerns surrounding group homes. The stories they heard of abuse and neglect were truly harrowing. Questions were raised about the extent that group homes give people independence, and whether they allow people with disability to exercise their rights to choose over where they live, who they live with and how they live. Staff practices and the use of restrictive were also explored. 



In February, the Commission will be holding hearings in Sydney to explore challenges people with cognitive disabilities face when trying to get their healthcare needs met. As the hearing has not happened, we obviously don’t know exactly what will be discussed. But the Issues Paper does provide some clues. We know that they are planning to look into whether the denial of health care constitutes a form of neglect (it’s got to be a ‘yes’ right???). They will also explore:

  • Physical and communication barriers to health care.
  • The training of health professionals when supporting people with cognitive disabilities,
  • Diagnostic overshadowing (when the health professional attributes symptoms to a person’s disability rather than a health issue). 
  • The prohibitive cost of health care.
  • Prescribing issues. 
  • The lack of sexual and reproductive healthcare. 

The Commission has also signalled that they will look at gaps between the NDIS and health system, and the difficulty these systems seem to have working together. Well, good luck to them! That might be a whole Royal Commission in itself.  


The Commission has also held two workshops with First Nations people. In these sessions, people raised concerns about racism in a health system, lack of services in remote settings, and the needs of First Nations’ children with cognitive disabilities not being met because they are perceived as behavioural issues. 

The Commission has also set up a First Nations People Strategic Advisory Group, and are finalising a First Nations Engagement Strategy.  



There are also community forums that are being held which discuss a range of issues relating to the Commission’s mandate. So far they have been to Townsville, Adelaide, Gawler and Hobart. The best way to keep track of where they will be next is to look at their 2020 schedule.



At the end of last year, the Commission released an Accessibility and Inclusion Strategy. In it, they make the somewhat obvious observation that if people with disability face barriers in making submissions, or are not properly supported to do so, then this whole Royal Commission thing just won’t work.

Unsurprisingly, a large part of the strategy is dedicated to describing how they will make their communications more accessible and less bureaucratic. This will include the use of accessible transcripts, captions, Easy Read and Easy English documents, braille facilities, Auslan interpreters and accessible venues. The Commission can also arrange shorter sessions, transport and support with decision making. People can choose to arrange their own supports and be reimbursed by the Commission, or have the Commission arrange the supports. The strategy also outlines the Commission’s plan to ensure that their work is trauma-informed. Counselling support is available, and people can bring support animals.  

On the accessibility note, the Progress Report also promises a new website that will go live in January. Apparently, the website will meet accessibility requirements, make giving submissions easier and be about 1000x more useable.  Seems like something might have happened to make them feel a tad insecure about their website.  

The Inclusion Strategy also clarifies the Commission’s plans for protecting people’s confidentiality.  Submissions will be de-identified unless the participant requests otherwise. However, it is important to note that they can only guarantee confidentiality during the life of the Royal Commission. They are requesting that parliament extends confidentiality to after the Commission ends, but at this stage we do not know if this will happen. People concerned about confidentiality can request a private meeting with the Commissioners. Information provided in private meetings remains confidential beyond the proceedings. It is also good to note that people who want to give evidence but are worried about confidentiality clauses that they have signed can ask that the Commission issues them with a “notice to produce.” If a notice to produce has been issued, or if the hearing is held in public, then it becomes a criminal offense for anyone to take action against someone because of their submission. The Commission is also requesting that people with disability inform them about any retaliatory action that is taken against them as a result of their submissions. In some circumstances, retaliation can be a criminal offence. 

They also promise that a Community Engagement Strategy will be out soon, we’ll keep you posted!  



An Interim Report will be released in October 2020. This should give us a concrete insight into where the Commission is heading.  

2020 is shaping up to be a big year for the Disability Royal Commission. Hopefully, the media attention will be enough to drive some of the real, systematic change that we so desperately need. We’ll keep you in the loop as the proceedings progress. They also have a mailing list you can subscribe to here.


Sara Gingold

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