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Peak bodies call for national assistive technology program for older people with disability

The Federal Government needs to end age discrimination in disability support and provide older Australians living with a disability - that are excluded from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) - equal access to assistive technology, say over 60 organisations in the ageing, disability and health sectors.

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Over 60 organisations want a national assistive technology program for people with disability that aren't able to access the NDIS. [Source: Shutterstock]

In a joint statement, the organisations call for a nationally consistent assistive technology program for people that are excluded from the NDIS and "fall through the cracks", like people with disability over the age of 65.

The organisations call for the Federal Government to respond to the relevant recommendations in the Final Report by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety that would provide older Australians with disability access to assistive technology supports, like wheelchairs, grab rails and prosthetic limbs.

The campaign is led by Assistive Technology for All (ATFA) - an initiative of Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria - and is supported by peak bodies like COTA Australia, the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN), and the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC).

Campaign Coordinator, Lauren Henley, says that the Government has only focused on using the NDIS to support younger people with disability, which has resulted in older Australians with disability over the age of 65 not being able to access the supports they need through the NDIS.

"The Assistive Technology for All campaign has united more than 60 organisations that work with people living with disability every day who are excluded from the NDIS and desperate for support," explains Ms Henley.

"Australia needs a national assistive technology program that operates alongside the NDIS to provide essential support and technology to the thousands of people with disability who aren’t covered by the Scheme."

The Department of Health recently released a report, Review of Assistive Technology Programs in Australia, that found for every dollar spent on assistive technology products and kits "the quantified benefits were six-fold" and the benefits of assistive technology as an intervention for older Australians "outweigh its costs".

Additionally, the timely provision of assistive technology offered a positive return on investment between $3.90 to $25.63 for every $1 spent.

The organisations are asking for a national assistive program approach that will:

  • Maximise safety, independence, inclusion and participation of people with disability who are excluded from the NDIS
  • Reduce burden on families and carers
  • Drive nationally consistent outcomes while streamlining access for consumers
  • Reduce the level of administrative burden on Governments
  • Minimise downstream costs by reducing demand in other areas, like acute health and aged and community care
  • Align with Australia's obligations under the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Ms Henley explains that if a person with a disability needs a prosthetic leg, that need for assistive equipment doesn't disappear once they turn 65 and depriving people of this support is "simply ageism".

"Older people who can’t access the NDIS are often forced to wait more than a year to access funding for assistive technology. If they are lucky enough to have resources some people manage to partly or fully fund it themselves. For those who can’t, they simply go without," says Ms Henley.

"It’s heartbreaking to see older people denied access to the same life-changing support as younger Australians, even though they need it just as much. To tell their families that they can’t get funding for a wheelchair that will give them back their independence and quality of life, simply because they are too old.

"The Royal Commission into Aged Care offered a glimmer of hope in its Final Report, recommending that older Australians be given access to the same technology and support as younger people living with similar levels of impairment.

"The Federal Government has made many commitments to implementing the Commission’s recommendations, and it’s past time for action. Older Australians have waited long enough."

To learn more about the campaign, visit the Assistive Technology for All website.

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