A new survey has found that Australians who are blind or vision impaired are experiencing longer wait times for low vision services with signs that this is expected to worsen.
The Snapshot Survey released today by Vision 2020 Australia, the Australian Blindness Forum and National Disability Services found that services were also struggling to recruit qualified staff and increasingly relying on volunteer support.
Vision 2020 Australia Director of Policy and Advocacy Brandon Ah Tong said: “We are already seeing longer waiting times and people being turned away because services just can’t keep up with demand and it’s predicted to get worse.”
“Unless urgent action is taken to establish an industry development strategy with input from consumers, providers and government to deal with the financial and workforce pressures, people who are blind and vision impaired will increasingly be shut out of their communities,” Mr Ah Tong said.
The national study designed to review blindness and low vision services found that more than a quarter of organisations had been forced to refuse services to clients and more than half of organisations surveyed reported that service wait times had increased on the previous year.
Vice-chair of the Australian Blindness Forum and Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton said: “With no sign that this situation will improve, we expect more people who are blind or vision impaired will face social isolation, a loss of independence and are more at risk of injuries.”
The Snapshot Survey also revealed low vision services were being propped up by the community. Nearly 50 per cent of funding is derived from fundraising and donations when income from all government sources amounts to less than 30 per cent. Volunteering hours are also equivalent to one-third of paid workforce hours.
“Services are continuing to rely largely on the generosity and support of the community at a time when the community is also hurting,” Mr Hooton said.
The survey also found that while organisations were enthusiastic about the National Disability Insurance Scheme there was growing concern about the scheme’s impact on blind and low vision services particularly around fundraising, flexibility and meeting the needs of clients.
Gordon Duff, General Manager – Policy and Research, National Disability Services, said: “As the disability and aged care sector moves to a person-centred approach there are deep concerns about the capacity of the sector to provide services and supports for people aged over sixty five in particular.”
“The fact that NDS, ABF and Vision 2020 Australia had to survey their members in order to get a clear picture of the sectors capacity to deliver services, demonstrates the lack of reliable data to ensure we have a sustainable national approach to supporting people who are blind or vision impaired into the future. If governments took their market stewardship role seriously, they would be helping service providers build into the NDIS with an industry development plan underpinned by evidence, to enable key strategic and investment decisions in the medium to longer term.”
- 90,203 clients accessed services with 2 per cent identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
- 60 per cent of clients were aged 65 years or older, 28 per cent were aged 19 to 64 years and 11 per cent from zero to 18 years.
- There were 343,391 client presentations over 580,195 service hours. This is an average of approximately one hour 45 minutes per client presentation.
- 1,505 full-time equivalent staff made up the employed workforce, with 890 (59 per cent) health/ allied health professionals and 615 (41 per cent) non-health/allied health staff.
- Half of the respondents that recruited staff reported difficulty in doing so, with orientation and mobility specialists, guide dog instructors, orthoptists, assistive technology consultants and optical dispensers (remote location) being cited as being especially difficult to recruit.
- Volunteering contributed 17,820 hours per week (equivalent to one-third of the paid workforce hours). This equates to approximately $30 million of unpaid support per year facilitated by participating organisations.
- The services offered by most respondents were community awareness/education; advocacy and advisory; information services; education support; and aids, equipment and assistive technology.
- The most utilised services by unique clients were allied health clinicians, library; aids, equipment and assistive technology; and information services.
- 27 per cent of respondents reported that they have had to refuse service to clients because of high demand.
- The total operating budget for respondents was $188.2 million. The greatest proportion of income at 43 per cent ($81 million) was generated by fundraising and bequests, with a further 18 per cent from sales ($34.4 million) and nine per cent from investments, grants and other sources. Income from all government sources amounted to 30 per cent at $56 million.
A summary and full version of the report is available in the Resources section.
Vision 2020 Australia is the national peak body for the eye health and vision care sector, representing around 50 member organisations involved in local and global eye care; health promotion; supports and services for people who are blind or vision impaired; research; professional assistance and community support. Vision 2020 Australia is part of VISION 2020: The Right to Sight, a global initiative of the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.
The Australian Blindness Forum (ABF) is the peak body for the blindness sector that comprises 22 major service providers for people who are blind or vision impaired across Australia. Members of the ABF are organisations whose primary objectives are the provision of services to people who are blind or vision impaired; those whose activities are substantially connected with the welfare of people who are blind or vision impaired, and those whose activities are substantially related to the prevention of blindness.
National Disability Services (NDS) is Australia’s peak body for non-government disability service organisations and has over 1030 members who operate several thousand services for Australians with all types of disability. Members range in size from small support groups to large multi-service organisations. Together, members of these peak bodies capture the majority of organisations involved in the provision of services and supports to people who are blind or vision impaired.
Louise Rudzki, Vision 2020 Australia, 0414 784 359, firstname.lastname@example.org