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Restrictive Practice Terms

Disability Royal Commission hearings sometimes use terms that most Australians aren’t very familiar with. We’re keeping a list of these and trying to explain them in plain language. Please feel free to email us at if you have suggestions for words that should be included.

These terms will come up in any hearings specifically about restrictive practices. You may also encounter them in other hearings about disability service providers, especially for disability housing.

Behaviours of concern: A very broad (and ableist) term used to describe any behaviour considered difficult to understand or manage by a service provider or health worker.It may be used to describe anything from shouting, to refusing to eat, to being naked in public, to self-harm or harming others. We do not like the use of this term, because it centres the experience of the service provider or health worker and their “concern”, while framing the “behaviour” of the person with disability as the problem, rather than identifying problems with the environment they are in.

Behaviour support: Supports intended to reduce the occurrence of “behaviours of concern” and minimise the use of mechanical, chemical or physical restrictive practices.

While the behaviour support is intended to be a move away from certain restrictive practices, it is still an essentially ableist idea, as it still frames the person with disability as the problem instead of the systems around that person.

Challenging behaviours: An alternative (and equally ableist) term for “Behaviours of Concern”.

Chemical restraint: The use of a medication or chemical substance for the primary purpose of modifying a person’s behaviour (not for therapeutic or treatment purposes). This may include the use of antipsychotics, antidepressants or sedatives.

Environments of concern: Available research has shown that “behaviours of concern” are very often “adaptive behaviours to maladaptive environments”, and “legitimate responses to difficult environments and situations.”¹ These may include group homes, boarding houses, locked wards, prisons or hospitals.

OPCAT: The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

OPCAT is an international agreement aimed at preventing torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. OPCAT was adopted in 2002 and entered into force in 2006.

The Australian Government ratified OPCAT in December, 2017.

Psychotropic medication: Any drug that might affect the mind, emotions and behaviour. Examples of psychotropic medication include antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers and stimulants.

Restrictive practices: Any practice or intervention that has the effect of restricting the rights or freedom of movement of a person with disability. These primarily include restraint (chemical, mechanical, social or physical) and seclusion.

All restrictive practices are a breach of the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) to which Australia is a signatory.

The National Framework: Commonwealth, State and Territory Disability Ministers endorsed the National Framework for Reducing and Eliminating the Use of Restrictive Practices in the Disability Service Sector at their meeting at the Disability Reform Council meeting on 21 March 2014.

The National Framework focuses on the reduction of the use of restrictive practices in disability services that involves restraint (including physical, mechanical or chemical) or seclusion.