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How Does Culture Affect Diagnosis?


The aim of this article is to look into the impact of culture on physical and mental disability in Australia’s clinical setting; as well as how it affects various diagnoses. The NDIS believes that such understanding will help develop medical services that are more responsive to the cultural and social contexts of Australia’s racial and ethnic minorities; for both participants and providers. Cultural misunderstandings between NDIS participants and provider, provider bias, and the fragmentation of disability health services deter minorities from accessing and utilizing NDIS care. This will prevent them from receiving the needed care.


Cultural Diversity in Disability Health

Australia is considered culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD). Cultural diversity, in particular, accounts for a lot of things in the disability health sector; some of them being:

  • The differences in what symptoms participants report
  • How they report their symptoms

It has been proven that culture has a bearing on whether participants seek disability help in the first place, the types of social supports they seek as well as the stigma they attach to various disabilities. In some communities, certain disabilities are assigned different “meanings”. Any medical practitioner or support provider is going to have to account for all these factors if they are going to achieve any significant progress in disbursing their services. While some of these cultural views may not necessarily be scientifically proven, it is important to show respect and approach diagnosis tactfully.

We should also acknowledge the fact that cultural influences can also be present in the members of the health support team and as such, they will visibly shape how the provider interacts with the participant.


Defining Disability in a Cultural Setting

You may not consider yourself as someone living with a disability perhaps because of the stigma and discrimination associated with it. It is also possible that your view about disability may not be the same as that defined by the NDIS – thanks to a different understanding about diversity. Scientific surveys done in the recent past have demonstrated that a significant people from indigenous communities are disinclined to use disability labels and services.

A good example is: a child experiencing aggression may be interpreted as the result of a developmental stage. If the same is experienced by an older person, the community may attribute it to ageing. On the other hand, the NDIS defines such symptoms as social, psychological or cognitive disability. This makes it hard for such a person (or their family) to reach out to NDIS for support.

The fear of lack of enough awareness and possible withdrawal of support for such services (due to lack of demand), is not lost on many Australians. With continued spread of awareness, estimates by the Australian Government put the proportion of people from CALD backgrounds participating in NDIS by 2019 to be 20%.

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