Independence and Participation Policy Committee report for the year ending 30 June 2020

Chair: Mr John Simpson AM

For the blindness and low vision sector, 1 July 2019 was an historic date which marked the coming together of the Australian Blindness Forum and Vision 2020 Australia to provide a more unified voice on key issues related to blindness and low vision.

This transition proceeded smoothly, providing real benefits to all by reducing duplication of effort and allowing for a streamlining of policy work.

With the Independence and Participation Committee’s concerns spanning both the disability and aged care systems, there was much work to do. Submissions were made to the following five reviews and inquiries over the reporting period:

The Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme: Inquiry into NDIS Planning, September 2019.

This submission recommended greater transparency in the planning process, and flexibility in the plan review process, in order to better meet the unique needs of people who are blind or have low vision. It also suggested clearer delegation of responsibility in cases where participants’ needs also span the education and health systems, and improved knowledge for assessors around disability-specific issues.

Improving the NDIS Experience: Establishing a Participant Service Guarantee and Removing Legislative Red Tape, November 2019.

This submission identified a range of issues with plans, reviews, and the entry pathway to the scheme, which could be addressed through the planned introduction of a participant service guarantee. It also recommended that the principle of “flexibility” be included as part of the guarantee, for the benefit of participants with episodic needs such as people who are blind or have low vision.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, January 2020.

The submission recommended improvements to current aged care arrangements for older Australians who are blind or have low vision. These included changes to eligibility and assessment systems, workforce development and support, enhanced arrangements for the provision of funded aids and equipment, and increased funding flexibility to allow providers of blindness and low vision services to better meet the specialised needs of people with vision impairment.

Initial Consultation Paper – Review of Regulation of Aged Care Workforce, June 2020.

This submission highlighted some of the risks and challenges associated with increasing regulations for staff who provide government-funded aged care services.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, June 2020.

This submission identified problems with the current aged care system’s overarching system of governance and market management, in particular the lack of necessary flexibility, sustainability or local/client responsiveness needed to meet the visual needs of older Australians.

The Committee also developed content for inclusion in Vision 2020 Australia’s 2020-21 Pre-budget Submission.. This submission recommended the facilitation of timely access to assistive technology through enhancements to both the NDIS and aged care systems. It also suggested research into the ways assistive technology could provide maximum benefit to people who are blind or low vision, their communities, and the broader economy and workforce.

Both the NDIS and aged care systems are broad and complex, and are attempting to meet the needs of all people with disability and/or older Australians through common approaches. The number of people with blindness and low vision is relatively low across both systems, and often their needs differ to those of many other service users.

The Committee’s work has focussed on advocating for changes to existing systems that could better meet the needs of Australians living with blindness and low vision by, for example:

  • improving current assessment processes,
  • improving workforce knowledge of blindness and low vision, and
  • addressing current deficits in funding for services, equipment and other supports.

One of our Committee’s strengths is that it draws together the perspectives of service providers, people living with blindness and low vision, health professional bodies, researchers and others with an interest in and commitment to improving outcomes for people living with blindness and low vision.

The adult referral pathway for blindness and low vision services, which was completed this reporting period, is a strong example of how, through working together, we can develop practical solutions to improve broader systems – in this instance, to make it easier for a range of professionals to identify, respond to and appropriately refer people with reduced vision to blindness and low vision services.

We were also extremely pleased to see the Australian Government announce financial support to implement audio-description for public broadcasters over the reporting period. This announcement was the result of extensive advocacy by many individuals and organisations over many years, and represents a reform that will provide people who are blind or have low vision with the same opportunities to enjoy television as other Australians.

The 2019-20 year was also extraordinary because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our sector and the organisations represented on the Committee. The Committee held an additional meeting to discuss and share information regarding those impacts.

While there were a range of challenges encountered, members also spoke to some of the unanticipated benefits that had arisen as a result of pandemic restrictions. Increased flexibility in funding arrangements for both aged care and the NDIS provided a range of practical benefits to some, while the roll out/extension of teleservices and proactive contacts made with clients during the pandemic period allowed the sector to, in some instances, extend its reach and play an important role in supporting social inclusion and connection during a challenging time.

In 2020, the IPC commenced a new cycle, and in closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all individuals and organisations who contributed to both the previous and current Committee.


John Simpson – Blind Citizens Australia (Chair)

Anita Egan – Orthoptics Australia

Annie Gibbins – Glaucoma Australia

Anthea Cochrane – Optometry Australia

Chris Edwards – Vision Australia

Derek Fails – Brien Holden Foundation

Diana Kube – Blind Citizens Australia

Dr Lisa Dillon – UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science

Dr Sue Silveira – Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children

Fleur O’Hare – Centre for Eye Research Australia

Harzita Hashim – Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children

Jaci Armstrong – Guide Dogs Australia

Kary Macliver – VisAbility

Leighton Boyd – Retina Australia

Mae Chong – Australian College of Optometry

Margaret Lum – RANZCO

Mark Choo – Macular Disease Foundation Australia

May Ho – Brien Holden Vision Institute

Shelley Pannier – Guide Dogs Victoria

Tony Starkey – Royal Society for the Blind/Beyond Blindness


Ana Radis – Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children

Angela Jaeschke – Blind Citizens Australia

Christina Ly – Macular Disease Foundation Australia

Dian Rahardjo – Brien Holden Vision Institute

Jane Schuller – Orthoptics Australia

Jim Colligan – Beyond Blindness

Jody Martin-Rankin – Royal Society for the Blind

Maria Kolic – CERA

Nosa Omokaro – RANZCO

Rosemary Boyd – Retina Australia

Scott Jacobs – Vision Australia

Sebastian Della Maddalena – VisAbility

Sharon Oberstein – UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science

Simon Hanna – Optometry Australia