A change in the rules around funding for assistive technology under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is being labelled as cutting “red tape” by the Government, however, disability advocates believe these changes need to go further.
The price limit for assistive technology (AT) purchases that can be automatically approved through the NDIS has been raised from $5,000 to $15,000.
Minister for the NDIS, Senator Linda Reynolds, says this change will make the process of purchasing AT quicker for people who need items like manual wheelchairs and specialty beds.
“I have listened closely to participants and their representatives, and what they have told me is they want a Scheme which is more person focused, with less red tape,” says Minister Reynolds.
“This is another example of the Government’s commitment to improving the NDIS and improving the participant’s experience.”
But members of the Assistive Technology for All campaign, an initiative of Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria, say while the change is welcomed to make access to supports easier for some people with disability, there are many more people still going without any funding at all.
Members of the campaign have been advocating for several years for assistive technology funding to assist all Australians who need it – not just those who qualify for the NDIS.
Assistive Technology for All Campaign Coordinator Lauren Henley says more action is needed than just a change within the NDIS.
“We support the recent changes to the NDIS, but urge the Government to remember that this scheme only provides direct support to around 10 percent of people with disability in Australia,” she says.
“As such, we are calling on the Australian Government to take urgent action to ensure people with disability who are excluded from the NDIS have equitable access to the assistive technology they need, when they need it.”
Limbs 4 Life is part of the campaign and says being excluded from the NDIS and any assistive technology funding available under the Scheme particularly affects older Australians.
“While Limbs 4 Life is thrilled with the latest changes to assistive technology funding under the NDIS and the benefits it will bring to participants, it again highlights the support gap for people over 65 who are excluded from the scheme,” the organisation explains.
“The wait times for people over 65 can be up to 18 months for items such as wheelchairs and vehicle modifications.
“Available funding often doesn’t come close to covering the real cost of assistive technology or home modifications, leaving the most vulnerable in our community without the support they need.”
Peak advocacy organisation, People With Disability Australia (PWDA), joined with the other advocates in welcoming the NDIS change and Senior Manager of Policy Giancarlo de Vera also agrees more should be done.
Mx* de Vera says a majority of people who need AT won’t find themselves on NDIS, so there is a question mark around who is responsible for supporting them.
“There needs to be greater clarity around how States and Territories can help fill the gap,” they say.
There are also barriers to accessing the NDIS for those who are eligible, including the cost of getting evidence of disability and a lack of support to navigate the NDIS application process for some communities.
“The key point really is what’s happening between the people who are accessing the scheme and those who fall short of the scheme – whether they’re waiting to get access or they’re not actually eligible,” says Mx de Vera.
“It’s really important that those who need AT don’t get left behind because they can’t get access to the scheme in a timely manner.
“We don’t want to see people who access the scheme be better off than those who find it difficult to get on the scheme because there’s a range of reasons why access is difficult for some people.”
For those who do have an NDIS plan, the change to assistive technology funding rules is not necessarily helpful either as Mx de Vera says there are issues around accessing the most expensive bracket of AT.
“Sometimes the request for larger ticket items in the NDIS may be subject to appeals and reviews and they can be quite time consuming and quite difficult,” they explain.
“The appeals process and the reviews process can be quite traumatic and protracted so sometimes that’s seen as a barrier to getting what participants actually need because they don’t want to go through the process.
“We need to ensure that the NDIS system also doesn’t stop people from getting their AT supports.”
More information about how the NDIS assistive technology funding change works and who it affects is available on the NDIS website.
*Mx is a gender neutral title used by people who don’t identify as being of a particular gender or people who don’t want to be identified by gender. [Definition from Merriam-Webster online dictionary]