Dennis Simpson contracted Polio when he was three years old and has lived with a physical disability ever since.
But because he did not apply for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) before turning 65 he has been forced to use an older brace, which is painful and restrictive, as he can’t access funding for a modern brace.
People with disability must be under the age of 65 when they apply for the NDIS and if they are older the alternative funding scheme is My Aged Care, however that scheme has smaller funding packages and often does not cover the same level of assistance as the NDIS.
Mr Simpson explains that if he was able to get funding to replace his straight leg brace with a modern equivalent it would have a big impact on his life.
“The straight leg brace is just a brace that you’ve probably seen people walking around with, elderly people, with a straight leg,” says Mr Simpson.
“It causes all sorts of problems to your back, to your thighs, and as you get older it’s harder to even lift the brace and move it so you’re basically in a situation where you are wearing technology that goes back to the 1920s.
“The current technology from out of Europe…they’ve deliberately developed the technology to work for Polio people, which is basically working along the lines of their technology that they use for amputees.
“So you can actually swing your leg in a normal swing gate movement, just like you do and like everybody else does.
“And also the technology stops you from falling, going forwards or backwards, whereas the old technology can cause problems – you can trip and all sorts of things and that’s happened to me a few times in the last few years.
“But our Government can’t give a damn about that.”
Mr Simpson knows of others who were able to join the NDIS and have the new C-Brace funded – at a cost of $80,000 – giving them a higher quality of life.
The Assistive Technology for All Campaign, which has been running for several years, is ramping up efforts to put this issue at the forefront of politicians’ minds in the hope of creating change.
Campaign members are running a survey in partnership with the University of Melbourne to collate the experiences of people in need of assistive technology and show just how many Australians are affected by the gaps in funding.
The goal of the Campaign, and the aim of collecting data through the survey, is to improve access to assistive technology for the many people with disability who are excluded from the NDIS, just like Mr Simpson.
With only about 10 percent of Australians with disability estimated to be eligible for the NDIS, Mr Simpson says there are a lot of people that need Government support for assistive technology.
“People who are over 65 like myself – I’ve worked in the workforce all my life and contributed to taxes and self-supported myself right up until now – find themselves basically told, ‘well suck it up and get on with life’,” says Mr Simpson.
“That really is dehumanising and demoralising.
“My Government has put me in a position where I have to think of what I could have been and what I can’t be, it’s horrible.”
The funding available through My Aged Care to older people not eligible for the NDIS isn’t flexible enough to cover assistive technology which can help people with disability maintain independence and continue to contribute to the community, says Mr Simpson.
“A lot of people in my situation, at 72 years of age, are still doing a little bit of part-time work and we’re not ready for the scrap heap, as it were,” he says.
“It seems to be with My Aged Care packages it’s just basically built around people coming in and getting you out of bed and washing the dishes and mowing the lawn and basically taking you down to the shops and stuff like that, which is alright for a person who’s in that situation but most people in their 70s are still quite mobile, within reason.”
Mr Simpson has been able to secure a Level 3 Home Care Package worth $33,000 a year, but he says the funding is “ridiculous” as it doesn’t actually cover what he needs.
“If I had a brace now I wouldn’t even need the [Home Care Package], you know it’s not even designed to look at those kind of situations and be objective about the person that they’re supporting or the needs of the person – it’s just a one size fits all,” explains Mr Simpson.
He hopes the survey will bring awareness to how widespread the issue is and force the Government to fix the system.
“The only way we’re going to get some reaction or help is in numbers and if you just look at the stats it makes sense for as many people as possible in my situation to put your hand up,” Mr Simpson says.
The anonymous Assistive Technology for All survey, which should take about 10-15 minutes to complete, can be accessed here and will be open until 28 February.