National Ethnic Disability Alliance

Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

CaLD and disability

People with disability often face significant barriers in their lives, which make it more difficult for them to work, learn, and access support when they need it. On top of these barriers, people with disability may experience inequality or discrimination based on other aspects of their identity, such as their age, gender, race, ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation. People from CaLD backgrounds frequently experience discrimination based on their looks, cultural or religious beliefs, and English proficiency.

The concept of overlapping and inter-related systems of inequality based on a person’s identities or demographics is known as intersectionality.  It is important to use an intersectional lens so that we can address multiple forms of inequality at the same time.

People with disability from CaLD backgrounds have diverse experiences, but some common factors can be identified. Many people with disability from CaLD backgrounds:

  • have greater difficulty accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and utilising their NDIS plans than those from non-CaLD backgrounds,
  • have greater difficulty applying for an Australian visa or securing permanent residency,
  • are subject to 10 year waiting periods before they are able to receive the Disability Support Pension,
  • find it difficult to locate culturally appropriate support or services in their preferred language, and
  • may come from cultures with different understanding of disability and support networks.

What is CaLD?

Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CaLD) is a bureaucratic phrase coined in response to migrant groups’ opposition to the term NESB (Non-English Speaking Background). Removing race from the Migration Act and the Constitution was a primary factor which led to the Government’s adoption of the CaLD acronym. 

One unfortunate consequence of adopting the term CaLD has been merging two distinct ideas, linguistic diversity and cultural diversity, into the same expression. It can lead people to believe that measures of linguistic diversity is reflective of cultural diversity, or vice versa, when the two are related but distinct concepts.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) uses a standard set of cultural and language diversity measurements in its Census to determine the CaLD status of individuals. The minimum core set of Cultural and Language Indicators is: 

  • Country of Birth,
  • Main Language Other Than English Spoken at Home,
  • Proficiency in Spoken English, and
  • Indigenous Status.

In practice, ‘Country of Birth’ is the most common and often the only variable collected.

The ABS’ Standard Set of Cultural and Language indicators provides greater insight into a person’s background, collecting information such as:

  • Ancestry,
  • Country of Birth of Father,
  • Country of Birth of Mother,
  • First Language Spoken,
  • Languages Spoken at Home,
  • Main Language Spoken,
  • Religious Affiliation, and
  • and Year of Arrival in Australia.

Still, significant numbers of people are often excluded from CaLD data sets. The data often fails to capture people from CaLD backgrounds who were born in Australia (such as second or third generation immigrants), people who have English language proficiency, or who continue to strongly identify with a particular cultural or religious group (instead of as “an Australian”). DEAF and newly arrived Australians who use Auslan identify as CaLD, as they possess a language and culture separate from the majority of Anglo-Australians.

These groups must be accurately captured in Australian datasets in order for Australian programs and policies to best serve everyone, not just white Anglo-Australians, and to reach vulnerable groups who experience higher rates of disadvantage than the general population.

All of the issues raised above demonstrate that the parameters of who is considered to be “CaLD” constantly changes, just like our migration patterns since 1788. The COVID pandemic and climate-related natural disasters, as well as Australia’s visa policies and legislation, have altered who sets foot in Australia as migrants and refugees and will continue to do so into the future.

Regardless, NEDA believes that every person has the right to have a say in policies and decisions that affect their lives, and this includes people from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds, migrants, and refugees.