With the imminent commencement of DisabililtyCare Australia on 1 July, it seems timely to take a moment to think about how far Australia has come since the concept of a lifetime of support for people with disabilities was introduced in 2010. In that year, the Productivity Commission conducted an inquiry to look into a better deal for people with disabilities, something that disability advocates had long been asking for. After much advocacy and consultation, the landmark NDIS Bill 2012 was passed in the Australian Parliament, rules governing the scheme have been presented to Parliament and $14.3 billion was awarded in the Federal Budget for DisabilityCare, plus a new 0.5 per cent Medicare levy to secure funding for the implementation of the scheme! This is truly an amazing and fundamental achievement for all Australians with a disability and in less than three years – something to be very proud of on an international scale.
What has this, and will this, all mean for the eye health and vision care sector?
During the consultation period prior to the NDIS Bill 2012, Vision 2020 Australia’s Low Vision and Rehabilitation Committee worked tirelessly to provide a united voice to government on behalf of the sector. Our consultation documents were developed specifically to ensure that the needs of people with vision impairment were met as part of the scheme. Three key wins included:
- We have the assurance that a person’s eligibility for the scheme will be determined by functional assessment rather a medical diagnosis.
- The NDIS Bill includes specific provision for early intervention which clearly incorporates people with degenerative conditions.
- A separate division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been established to conduct independent reviews of decisions made by DisabilityCare Australia.
However, our work is far from done and there is still one important hurdle that needs to be addressed. One of the most problematic elements of DisabilityCare Australia, as pointed out in our response to the Productivity Commission’s original report, relates to the age cut-off for people over the age of 65 years and their exclusion from the scheme. This is inequitable and means that those in the blind and low vision community over the age of 65 are deferred to the aged care sector, which makes virtually no provision for dealing with older Australians with disabilities.
Our attention has now shifted to work with the Australian Government in the aged care sector so that adequate aids, equipment, services and support are provided to older Australians. Disability has never been at the forefront of Australians’ minds as it is right now. Our challenge is to ensure it stays there as we head towards an election in September. Disability support for older Australians must remain a concern for all.