“For the first time [people with disabilities] will have their needs met in a way that truly supports them to live with choice and dignity.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke these words in 2012 when introducing the National Disability Insurance Scheme bill. Four years on, the disability sector is undergoing a great transformation and with carers, people with disability and service providers operating within a whirlwind of anticipation, confusion, and uncertainty, it is easy to forget the initial aim of the NDIS and the positive stories emerging from the roll-out.

The NDIS works to ensure that people with disability are treated as consumers, with choice and control over their supports, and consistency of funding regardless of the state in which they live. It replaces the archaic charity model, instead shifting the focus to empowering people with disability to lead a quality life through the funding of supports deemed ‘reasonable and necessary’.  Payment is made in the form of individual packages, rather than block funding in the hands of service provider. This gives the funding recipient the freedom to invest their money in another service if their current one isn’t meeting their needs. This means a change in mindset for services, who must put the interests of their clients first to be successful. People can choose how they manage their funds, i.e. self-managed, agency-managed or via a financial intermediary; if their current arrangement is working, nothing need change.

While there is considerable controversy surrounding the eligibility criteria for people accessing the scheme, the NDIS has had overwhelmingly positive effects on the quality of life on the majority of participants.

Going into the interview with my Local Area Co-ordinator, I was encouraged to think in a way previously foreign to me: “What do I envision for my life and which supports do I need to help me achieve that?” and “What are my goals?”

Suddenly I am in the driver’s seat, I can choose who I wish to support me and which activities will improve my quality of life, whether it be physiotherapy, occupational therapy, meal preparation or assistance with laundry. There is a recognition that I am the most important voice in the decision-making around my future, that my skills and talents can make a positive contribution to the economy and well-being of Australian society. The NDIS will assist me to move house to live with my partner, be more physically active and increase my strength, own a wheelchair that better suits my needs, and more generally live a life that suits me, with freedom and flexibility.

One tenant of the NDIS is to focus on level of functional ability, i.e. if it is a goal of a participant to travel to a place of employment independently, the NDIS may provide travel training under the heading of capacity building. The scheme aims to close the gap between the experiences of people with disability and people without a disability in Australian society. Indeed, it is estimated that by 2019, the NDIS will support 460,000 people under the age of 65 with a permanent disability. Over the long-term, it will reduce the price of disability-specific services by encouraging inclusion into mainstream services. Additionally, the NDIA forecasts that the scheme will assist up to 40,000 people in finding work and 34,000 carers to return to work.

The NDIS is known as an insurance model because the costs involved are calculated over the person’s life, rather than for five or ten years at a time. The scheme focuses on the importance of early intervention and education so that costs and supports are decreased in the future.

The Information, Linkages and Capacity Building element of the NDIS recognises that people with disability often experience isolation. It focuses on connecting people with local community activities and educating the mainstream about disability. People who are not eligible for NDIS packages can still be involved in ILC projects. The grant rounds for Victorian ILC projects have now closed but we await the funded projects with interest; I imagine they will be full of creativity.

One of the most heartening outcomes of the NDIS for me has been watching the power of social media. It not only played a pivotal role in birthing the NDIS through promoting the ‘Every Australian Counts ‘campaign. but has also given a voice to those who may otherwise be unable to express their wishes, desires and complaints and assist them to connect with others in their community.

If supports are denied by the NDIS, yet the person believes them to be ‘reasonable and necessary’, the decision can be reviewed, once again empowering the person with the disability to access the justice system.

As with any innovative scheme of this magnitude, there are sure to be significant teething problems, especially with such tight time-frames. However, I am sure that in a few years, after the ironing out of such issues, we will find that the potential it awakens in people with disability is well worth it.

Nicole Smith

Nicole uses both her professional experience working in the disability sector and her lived experience of Cerebral Palsy in her role as Administrative Assistant at Carer Solutions Australia. In her spare time, she works as a freelance writer.

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