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Tuesday / May 21.
HomeminewsLonger Wait for People who are Blind

Longer Wait for People who are Blind

Australians who are blind or vision impaired are experiencing longer wait times for low vision services and these times are expected to worsen.

A Snapshot Survey released 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,” said Mr. Ah Tong.

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 that nearly 50 per cent of funding for low vision services is derived from fundraising and donations. 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,” said Mr. Hooton.

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 65 in particular.”

Key Findings

1. There were 90,203 clients who accessed services with 2 per cent identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

2. Sixty 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.

3. There were 343,391 client presentations over 580,195 service hours. This is an average of approximately one hour 45 minutes per client presentation.

4. The employed workforce comprised 1,505 full-time equivalent staff, with 890 (59 per cent) health/ allied health professionals and 615 (41 per cent) non-health/allied health staff.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. The services offered by most respondents were community awareness/education; advocacy and advisory; information services; education support; and aids, equipment and assistive technology.

8. The most utilised services by unique clients were allied health clinicians, library aids, equipment and assistive technology; and information services.

9. There were 27 per cent of respondents who reported they have had to refuse service to clients because of high demand.

10. 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.