State of play
Figures show that more than 453,000 Australians are blind or vision impaired and the majority of these are aged over 65 years. The prevalence of vision impairment and blindness doubles with each decade over 60 years for non-Indigenous Australians.
The total annual economic cost of vision loss in Australia was estimated to be $16.6 billion in 2009 or $28,905 per person with vision loss aged over 40.
It is estimated that 58 per cent of people who are blind or vision impaired within the labour market are unemployed and two-thirds of those in paid employment need more hours to make ends meet.
A recent snapshot survey found that it is expected that Australians who are blind or vision impaired will experience longer wait times for blindness, low vision and rehabilitation services leading to social isolation, a loss of independence and higher risk of injuries.
What needs to be done?
In order for people who are blind or vision impaired to remain independent and fully participate in the community, more needs to be done to ensure people have access to high quality government funded services and supports, when and where they need it.
Australian Government funded programs such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Home Care and Home Support within the aged care system need to include eligibility and assessment pathways that understand the specific needs of people who are blind or vision impaired. People don’t know what they don’t know, so ensuring specialist expertise and peer support are available to individuals navigating their way through government programs is essential.
Services such as those that build new skills for independence in the home, mobility when moving around the community and other ways of reading and writing using braille or magnification help to keep people at school, in jobs and engaged in their communities. These services need to be made available to those that need them, free of charge or at minimal cost and available to everyone equally regardless of their age.
Supporting all people who are blind or vision impaired with the right services regardless of their age, location or economic status, is essential for ensuring sustainable economic growth, maximising productivity and maintaining healthy and happy lifestyles.
In 2011, the Disability Care and Support Productivity Commission estimated that if an additional 100,000 people with disability were employed by 2050, this would add an additional 1 per cent to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product. People who are blind or vision impaired make up a significant portion of this population group and therefore supporting their independence and participation will directly support economic growth.
Healthy and active ageing is also a cornerstone of Australia’s agenda as the population ages. It is estimated that on average, supporting people who are blind or vision impaired over the age of 65 requires less intense and less frequent interventions than their younger counterparts. This means with a relatively small investment, older Australians can stay living in their own homes and out of residential care for longer, engaged with their families and communities.