Service provider perspectives on supporting people with intellectual and developmental disability from Iraqi and Syrian refugee backgrounds

A/Professor Angela Dew1, Mr Mariano Coello2, Dr Caroline Lenette3, Dr Louisa Smith4, Ms Ruth Wells3, Dr Julia Lappin3, Professor Katherine Boydell5, Ms Helen Bibby2, Professor Mitchell Smith6, Associate Professor Shanti Raman7, Ms Katina Velkou8, Associate Professor Karen Zwi9, Professor David Issacs10

1Deakin University, Burwood, Australia, 2NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors , Sydney, Australia, 3UNSW, Sydney, Australia, 4University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia, 5Black Dog Institute, Randwick, Australia, 6NSW Refugee Health Service, Sydney, Australia, 7Community Paediatrics South Western Sydney Local Health District, Sydney, Australia, 8Settlement Services International, Sydney, Australia, 9Refugee Children’s Health Clinic, Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, Australia, 10Health Assessment for Refugee Kids, Children’s Hospital, Westmead, Australia

Recently 15 million Syrian and Iraqi people fled their homes because of war and human rights violations. In 2015, Australia committed to settle 12,000 of them as humanitarian entrants. In 2012 the Government streamlined the health waiver for all humanitarian visa applicants meaning that people with disability were more likely to get a visa. Little is known about the implications of this change for Australian service providers as the number and circumstances of refugees with a disability who have been resettled here to date is unknown. This paper describes one part of a larger study to explore the impact of resettlement in Australia for Iraqi and Syrian refugees with disability, their families and service providers.

Seven practitioners employed in four South Western Sydney, NSW refugee support services were interviewed about their experiences of supporting people with disability from Iraqi and Syrian refugee backgrounds. Data were analysed using thematic analysis and constant comparison.

Practitioners described how their refugee support organisations responded to refugees with disability, including intellectual and developmental disability, through a range of service enhancement strategies and, in particular, how they assisted people to access the NDIS. Practitioners also described refugee family member’s varied cultural understanding of intellectual and developmental disability and how this impacted on their help-seeking behaviours and expectations.

This study has important implications for understanding the ways in which organisations support the complex physical/mental health and social needs of people with intellectual and developmental disability from Iraqi and Syrian refugee backgrounds.


Associate Professor Angela Dew is a Sociologist engaged in research related to people with intellectual disability and complex support needs. Angela uses qualitative and arts-based methods within an integrated knowledge translation framework to ensure her research results in practical solutions that can be tailored to individuals and local communities

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