Poverty in remote Indigenous communities is hampering access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a royal commission has been told.

Many families live in overcrowded housing and rely on social security for their income, Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council team manager Kim McRae says.

“When you don’t have enough food and shelter and safety, engaging with your NDIS plan is just not a priority,” she told the hearing in Alice Springs on Tuesday. 

“It is often very difficult for people to prioritise the NDIS plan when every day is a struggle just to survive.”

Ms McRae said people with disability on Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara country, which straddles the Western Australian, South Australian and Northern Territory borders, often do not understand their NDIS plan. 

They also do not have access to the NDIS portal to check their plan due to the lack of computers.

“When they are living in overcrowded housing and often having obligations to support the extended family, it can be very difficult for people to think that the NDIS plan is important,” Ms McRae said.

There are also cultural barriers to having an NDIS assessments related to “shame and blame” if a child has a disability.

“Sometimes families are concerned that people in the community might blame them or think they did something wrong,” Ms McRae said.

There is also a lack of practitioners able to provide culturally appropriate assessments or travel out to the NPY lands and provide assessments. 

“There’s that whole issue of families just worried every day about food, shelter and safety and so making the time and having access to the resources so they can go and get assessments done, it can be a real challenge for families,” Ms McRae said.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is examining the treatment and experiences of thousands of Indigenous people with disabilities in remote communities.

Barriers to accessing the NDIS and disability services are among the issues being covered during the five-day sitting in Alice Springs.

It is also considering whether those hurdles cause or contribute to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of Indigenous people with disabilities

The inquiry is expected to hear on Wednesday from several witnesses who will speak of their experiences with the NDIS while living in remote communities.

Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre chief executive Emily Carter is also due to appear before the commission.

There are about 66,000 Indigenous people with a profound or severe disability in Australia.

Of those, about 11 per cent or roughly 7000 people live in remote or very remote areas, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.