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Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families in Australia

Australia is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries. More than a quarter of Australians (26 per cent) were born overseas, and of these, two thirds were born in non-English speaking countries (National Disability Insurance Agency, 2018). The National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA) estimates that people from non-English speaking backgrounds with disability comprise 1 in 20 Australians, or approximately 1 million people.

In 2016, Queenslanders spoke more than 180 languages, held more than 110 religious beliefs and came from more than 220 countries (The State of Queensland, 2016). The following figure provides an overview of the diversity of Queensland’s population as of the 2016 census:

Culturally and linguistically diverse families and disability

As of the 2016 census, there were almost 21,000 usual residents of Queensland who spoke a language other than English at home who required assistance for core activities. Of this group, 61.6% (12, 893 persons) were aged 65 or over (State of Queensland, 2018). For further information on the diversity of Queensland, read the ‘Diversity figures’ report.

Australians who are culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) have been historically underrepresented in the disability sector. Some factors contributing to this underrepresentation include language barriers and literacy issues, lack of awareness of available supports and eligibility, and that some cultures prefer to offer care to their family and community members as opposed to relying on formal support systems (Zhou, 2015). Service providers may also be lacking in cultural competence, disability assessment processes are not done in a way that is culturally sensitive, and diagnoses from overseas may not be clear to Australian services or providers (Diversitat, 2015).

Further reading

To further inform your understanding, the resource Enhancing family and relationship service accessibility and delivery to culturally and linguistically diverse families in Australia contains information on the barriers to service accessibility and appropriate service delivery for culturally and linguistically diverse families in Australia.


Stigma is defined by the World Health Organisation as “a mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval which results in an individual being rejected, discriminated against, and excluded from participating in a number of different areas of society” (2001). Different people, families and cultures perceive disability in different ways. Sometimes, there is stigma surrounding a person’s disability, reinforced by individual perceptions of disability, and / or institutional structures and systems. Stigma can also be a contributing factor to why CALD families are less likely to have supports regarding their disability.

The resource Rethinking stigma is accessible via the Department of Communities, Disabilities and Seniors CALD NDIS ready website. This resource provides a great overview of stigma when thinking about CALD families where disabilities are present, and includes helpful tips for practitioners to consider when working with families.

A family journey shows the story of a migrant family as they learn about their son who has autism. It can help you to develop an understanding of what life may be like for a CALD family whose child has a disability and the difficulties they may face.

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