Policy Development and Implementation for Disability Services in Rural New South Wales, Australia

06 March 2017

Throughout their lives, all people, including those who have a disability, use a broad range of community services. Community services are important in assisting people with a range of impairments to participate in their communities. Vast geographic distances and a lack of therapists in rural and remote regions of Australia pose significant barriers for implementing policy aimed at supporting people with a disability. The aim of this study was to investigate the extent to which metropolitan-formulated policy encompassed the unique geographic, demographic, and sociocultural challenges experienced by rural therapists and people with a disability in New South Wales (NSW). Twenty-seven policy documents were reviewed and categorized into tier 1 (higher level strategic policies) and tier 2 (specific operational policies). Tier 1 policy documents provided consistent messages about the need to develop strategies and service delivery options to address geographic, cultural, and age-related barriers facing all people in NSW including those who have a disability. Tier 2 documents revealed a lack of attention to the practical differences between implementing the policy principles in metropolitan compared with rural areas. Study findings identify that the implementation of metropolitan-formulated policy does not always encompass the unique challenges experienced by therapists providing services to rural people with a disability and their carers. This study highlights the importance of “rural proofing” policy to consider people who live and work in rural areas.