There’s a plethora of services and support available for people who have permanent and significant disabilities through the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Aged Care.
Both schemes are designed to provide people with greater choice and control of their lives, however navigating them can be a challenge and in recent months there have been plenty of complaints about the experience. Vision Australia can support your patients who are blind or have low vision by helping them understand which scheme they may be able to access, and guide them through the process.
In Australia each year more than 1.1 million people access Aged Care. As of August, over 100,000 have joined the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). According to Vision Australia, around 2 per cent of those people have low vision or are blind.
These innovative schemes are providing people with low vision or blindness with everything from prescriptive aids such as optical and digital magnifiers, telescopes, loupes, high plus and prism spectacles, through to services to assist with education, employment, independence and social inclusion.
In Australia each year more than 1.1 million people access Aged Care
“Hundreds of people affected by permanent and irreversible vision loss are accessing NDIS funded support and services from Vision Australia. Likewise our over 65 year olds are accessing services, low vision intervention and equipment from Aged Care to help them live at home independently long-term,” said Virginia McDonald, regional practice leader (Northwest Murray) and orthoptist with Vision Australia. “We help them optimise the funding that’s available to meet their needs.”
The two new schemes represent a departure from the traditional disability funding model, which provided ‘block funding’ to approved providers and limited options for end users.
NDIS lead Scott Jacobs, said it’s been an “incredibly positive” change. That’s because rather than being provided with pre-determined services that simply assist with getting by day-to-day, the NDIS encourages people to set their own goals and consider how they want to develop their skills and capacity for the future, “so they can manage their lives and achieve their goals either on their own or with support”.
The Schemes in Brief
The National Disability Insurance Scheme
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provides support for people who acquire a disability before the age of 65.
It was partially rolled out on 1 July 2013. The national roll-out commenced on 1 July 2016 and is still underway.
Find out more: ndis.gov.au
Aged Care is the gateway to services which enable older Australians (people over 65 years or over 50 with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island heritage) to receive subsidised aged care services. There are three programs within AC, two to support people living in their own homes and one to support those living in a residential aged care facility.
Find out more: myagedcare.gov.au
For many though, determining what those goals are is a challenge in itself.
“People aren’t used to deciding on the services they want within the context of their goals – they aren’t used to thinking in those terms, especially with the need to look into the future, and they’re not used to being able to communicate those goals and express what they need to achieve them,” said Mr. Jacobs. Yet, he said, this is critical to getting the most out of NDIS.
Vision Australia is playing an important role in helping people do exactly that.
Vision Australia’s Critical Role
Virginia McDonald explained how it works. “At Vision Australia we are very passionate about helping people achieve their life goals, which can be truly transformational,” she said.
Patients referred to Vision Australia by optometrists, ophthalmologists and GPs are allocated a ‘Primary Service Provider’ (PSP) with mainly backgrounds in allied health. PSPs include orthoptists, occupational therapists, orientation and mobility specialists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, counsellors, early childhood specialists and more, and in the initial stages, they sit with the person to hear their story.
“This is a key part of our ‘person-centred’ practice – which places the person at the centre of their own life and recognises they are the expert who can exercise choice and control,” said Mrs. McDonald.
“By focusing on the patient’s strengths, rather than their deficits, we help them define their goals, look at the strategies they are already using to achieve those goals and identify further support available. We then formalise this into an NDIS pre-plan for the client to take with them to their NDIS meeting.”
Additionally for people with low vision, Vision Australia orthoptists prepare a low vision report, which highlights the person’s functional vision and recommends prescriptive aids to assist the person in everyday life and pursue their identified goals. These may include optical and digital magnifiers, telescopes, binoculars, hyper-oculars, prism spectacles, CCTV’s, and the latest wearable technology such as the OrCam My Eye and IrisVision, etc. Low vision interventions, like, scanning and null point training, can also be recommended and provided by Vision Australia.
“As well as preparing a pre plan report for NDIS, we provide a low vision assessment report to the person’s optometrist, ophthalmologist and GP, with prescriptive aids, interventions and any changes to vision” said Mrs McDonald. “Vision Australia is not a primary health care service – our services complement the care provided by eye specialists. Our orthoptists play an important role by encouraging their clients to see their eye specialist for on going eye health management and treatment and for checks if they detect a change of vision during the functional low vision assessment, if the client is overdue for an eye health review, is experiencing new symptoms or not managing their eye drops.”
Mrs. McDonald told mivision the stories of two clients – Nancy and Michael* to demonstrate the level of service that Vision Australia provides.
Nancy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Nancy was referred to Vision Australia by her ophthalmologist. At 60, she had developed myopic macular degeneration and was eligible to apply for the NDIS because she was under the age of 65 years with significant functional vision loss.
Following conversation with her Vision Australia Primary Service Provider or PSP (an orthoptist), Nancy identified the following goals:
- To maintain and increase participation in social activities as a volunteer cook.
- To swim to improve her muscle strength and fitness, which would help her control her diabetes.
Nancy undertook a functional vision assessment and her PSP recommended low vision aids, including monocular Telescopes (keplerian) with training to help her travel independently to the pool by bus and view shopping aisles. They also recommended a hyperocular lens to help her with reading recipes and food labels, as well as talking clocks and scales to help her continue volunteering.
Vision Australia prepared a pre-plan articulating Nancy’s functional vision loss, her goals and the recommendations. Following her meeting with NDIS her Vision Australia PSP discussed the formalised plan with Nancy and helped her develop a service agreement to access Vision Australia services and equipment with NDIS funding. Vision Australia will remain in touch with Nancy to assess her changing needs and help her access further services as required.
Michael and Aged Care
At the age of 87, Michael has low vision and lives in his own home with support from a level two Aged Care Home Care Package.
Michael has received services from Vision Australia for many years but recently a Vision Australia occupational therapist identified a decline in his level of independence and safety at home. The occupational therapist prepared a home based assessment report for AC requesting a review for a higher level package (pending an Aged Care Assessment Service (ACAS) assessment) to help Michael continue to live safely and independently in his own home in the future.
The therapist recommended increased assistance for home and garden maintenance, including home modifications, administration (emails, bills etc), shopping, accessing community services and meal preparation.
Additionally, they referred Michael to see Vision Australia’s assistive technology specialist who recommended ZoomText software and flagged the potential need for a CCTV, which would be supported by Vision Australia training. The occupational therapist arranged the purchase of a radio for Michael, enabling him to listen in to Vision Australia radio in his local area, with the intention of helping him to remain connected with the outside world. This was particularly important given that Michael lived alone.
Without an advocate, it’s unlikely that Michael, Nancy or thousands of other Australians would be able to access the services and support needed to enjoy quality of life and live with independence. Thankfully, Vision Australia, a not for profit organisation is determined to fill the gap.
“Aged Care Packages and NDIS plans are tricky and no two plans or packages are the same. We help people decipher their individualised plan and we advocate on behalf of our clients to help achieve the necessary funding,” said Ms. McDonald. “We’re all about being agile, about accessing services to meet clients’ goals, and about providing our clients with the expertise and support they need to find fulfilment.”
*People’s names were changed to protect their privacy.
Vision Australia works in partnership with Australians who are blind or have low vision to help them achieve the possibilities they choose in life.
The not for profit organisation supports more than 27,500 people of all ages and life stages, and circumstances.
Vision Australia has 28 centres in Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia; 30 clinics; and also provides its services through outreach programs in the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
Find out more: visionaustralia.org