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National Disability Insurance Scheme News

Issue 5, December 2013

In this issue:

Message from the CEO, David Bowen


Welcome to the final edition of the NDIS News update for 2013.

It’s been an historic year with the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, beginning with the roll-outs in the Barwon area of Victoria, the Hunter area of NSW, Tasmania (for those aged 15-24) and children in SA.

With the calendar year drawing to a close, we can look back at the achievements in 2013. We’ve launched four trial sites, established seven shopfronts plus other satellite sites; started the transition of thousands of individuals from existing service systems into the new, national framework of the NDIS; and in recent weeks made significant progress in accelerating entry to the Scheme and approval of individualised plans.

The NDIA is here for the long haul. This is a unique scheme and it is both our privilege and our responsibility to make it everything it can be.

Over the past few days I am sure you will have seen many media reports and comments about the Scheme, expressing concern about costs and sustainability and efficiency of delivery. I want to make two points.

  • First, it is absolutely clear to me that there remains strong bipartisan support for the delivery of the NDIS.
  • Second, it is reasonable that the Agency be asked to consider the report on the first quarter and what that means for our processes and approach.

The reason that the Productivity Commission recommended a trial of the Scheme was specifically to test underlying assumptions about prevalence and level of need for support and also to allow operating models to be tested and refined. That is what we are now doing. And we must all learn the lessons of implementing the NDIS in the lives of real people.

We should also reflect on the International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), on 3 December, in which the theme was ‘break barriers and open doors to realise an inclusive society for all’. It’s a timely reminder for us to focus on everyone’s abilities rather than supposed limitations of disability.

In this edition of NDIA News, we catch up with NDIA Planner Heather Anderson to hear about her recent experience on the high seas, and we hear from participants who shared their views of the Scheme with ABC radio.

It’s time to sign off for the year, so I wish participants, their families, carers, service providers and all those within the disability sector a safe and festive holiday season and a happy New Year.

2014 is shaping up to be another exciting year filled with more great achievements. I look forward to continuing our journey with you and delivering the Scheme that is truly changing the lives of many.

Best wishes,

David Bowen

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Minister reaffirms commitment to NDIS

The Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme last month in his televised address to the National Press Club.

In his speech in Canberra on 20 November, Minister Fifield outlined his Government’s support and philosophy for the Scheme.

“Yes, it’s true my party sees itself as the party of smaller government, but we are not the party of no government,” Minister Fifield said.

“And yes, as a political movement we believe in hard work and reward for effort, but we also believe in helping people who face extra challenges for reasons beyond their control.

“For me and for this Government and for our Prime Minister, the NDIS is core government business. It is a priority.

“Let me be clear. We will make the National Disability Insurance Scheme a reality.”

Minister Fifield also said expectations of the NDIS should be realistic.

He said that no one was served by hype, exaggeration or glossy advertising materials that conveyed little information.

“Explanation of the NDIS should be characterised by facts,” Minister Fifield said.

“The starting point should be what the NDIS is and what the NDIS is not.”

He said that the NDIS was not designed to provide direct support for all Australians with a disability, with some estimates putting that figure at more than four million Australians with some form of disability.

“The NDIS will aim to provide an entitlement for aids, equipment, personal attendant care and other non-income supports to around 460,000 Australians with significant non-age related disabilities,” he said.

“The objective of the NDIS is to address the chronic unmet need of a group of people who have been under-supported for decades.”

Minister Fifield also said he could not imagine holding a more important position in his career.

“I believe this role is probably the most significant I will hold in public life,” he said.

“I can’t think of another area that has the potential to improve the quality of life of so many Australians.”

Holiday arrangements

The NDIA will remain open throughout the holiday period to provide support to participants.

Staff will operate:

  • in all offices between 12.30pm and 4pm on 24 December;
  • in all offices (except Devonport and Launceston) between 10am and 3pm on the days between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.

Staff at the Barwon, Hunter and SA trial sites will include a Planner to begin any urgent planning or amend existing plans to address crisis needs.

The call centre opening hours remain as 8am to 6pm over the holiday break (but will be closed on public holdays).

Providers will be able to contact the provider hotline (1800 800 110) if they have any queries regarding the provider registration or the Provider Portal over the holiday period. Emails to the provider support team will also be reviewed in this period.

The holiday arrangements can also be viewed on the website.

The ABC of positive feedback

Mary Stoddart and daughter Courtney

Mary Stoddart and daughter Courtney, as pictured on the ABC website.

Reports of the NDIS progress in trial sites are emerging, with two carers from Colac and a dad from Hobart sharing their stories on ABC radio.

Mary Stoddart, whose 21-year-old daughter Courtney was born with Down syndrome, told ABC Ballarat the planning stage had been “pain-free”.

"Overall, I must say the process has been a very positive one from my point of view," Mary said.

She said she had a meeting with an NDIS Planner to discuss Courtney’s short-term and long-term goals.

"Fortunately, yes, there were no dramas. The woman I spoke with had a lot of great ideas and was very helpful in refining some of those things to fit in with Courtney's goals," she said.

Mary told the ABC she was surprised to find Courtney’s swimming costs would be covered under the scheme.

"That fell into something that could be funded … as part of a short and long-term goal of staying healthy and staying fit and managing weight for Courtney, so that's been a really positive thing."

Lucy Washington, also of Colac, has a 36-year-old son Michael who has an acquired brain injury. She too said the process had not been as stressful as she expected.

"We're very happy and confident. I've had a very good planner. We've looked at all his aids and equipment he will need,” Lucy told the ABC.

“At the moment I'm very happy with what he's got put in place for the next 12 months."

You can read more about the two carers’ reflections and listen to their interviews on the ABC Ballarat website.

John, a widower, is the father of three kids aged 15-19, with the two eldest having intellectual disabilities. He told ABC Hobart about the prospect of the NDIS making his life better.

You can listen to John's interview on the ABC Hobart website.

Another participant, Simone, and the parent of participants, Heather, also tell their story in videos on the NDIS website.

You can also read the stories of other participants on the NDIS website.

A meeting with the Minister

We asked Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, some questions about what he sees on the horizon for the Scheme and the sector.

photo of the Hon Mitch Fifield

Q: What differences to the landscape (and people with disability) do you think the NDIS will make?

A: The NDIS is transformational, a once-in-a-generation reform. It will address the chronic unmet need of a group of people who have been under-supported for decades.

It will give around 460,000 Australians with significant disability the support they need and will take a lifelong approach to providing care and support over a person’s lifetime. Support will go to the individual, and will put people with disability at the centre and in charge of the support they receive. This shift to individualised funding will bring significant change to the disability sector: it will be bigger, more flexible and there will be a wider range of providers and services for people to choose from. 

Q: How much can Australia learn from the successes and failures of other countries who have implemented successful and sustainable disability insurance schemes?

A: In its landmark report that paved the way for the NDIS, the Productivity Commission considered elements of disability insurance and support schemes in other countries. These considerations helped to inform the design of the NDIS.

However, the NDIS is a uniquely Australian design.

Q: What developments would you like to see in the sector?

A: The NDIS will provide many opportunities for the disability sector in this country. The person-centred approach of the NDIS will empower the sector to become more responsive to the needs and goals of the individual.

I have confidence that the disability sector will embrace the opportunities unleashed by the NDIS to build their capacities, harness new technologies and find creative ways to meet the needs of Australians with disability.

Q: What plans for the NDIS would you like to see considered and/or implemented?

A: We will learn a lot through the experience of the trial sites in the Barwon, the Hunter, in Tasmania and in South Australia. These sites will provide lessons and a deeper understanding that will inform the full implementation of the Scheme across Australia.

I am pleased that a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the NDIS has been established. The committee will serve as a symbol of bipartisan support for the NDIS and also provide a forum where questions of design and implementation can be examined.

I envisage that the committee will play an important role in examining the experience in the NDIS launch and ensuring its foundations are strong.

Q: What would you like participants to be able to say about the NDIS in five years?

A: I would like people with disability to say that the NDIS has helped them live the life they choose. Whether that be increased independence, being in a better position to pursue education or employment, or simply being able to participate more fully in the community.

Webinars click into gear

image of the Breaking Down Barriers webinar video
The Agency has hosted its first interactive webinars with interest exceeding expectations.

It was predicted that about 500 people would tune in to the inaugural webinar, held on 6 November, but about 2,000 people took part. Team moderators were delighted with the numbers of questions and comments contributed by the audience. The video of the webinar, which looked at “Choice and Control”, has since been viewed more than 13,000 times.

NDIA Manager of Communication and Engagement Dougie Herd hosted the discussion and was joined on the panel by Moira Byrne Garton, who has a daughter with significant disability; Catherine Mahony, who helped establish Community Disability Alliance Hunter and expects to transition to the NDIS, and the President of People With Disability Australia, Craig Wallace. They each brought unique insights to the discussion.

The second webinar, held on 10 December, was entitled “Breaking Down Barriers”, and attracted about 1,000 people.

Three representatives of the disability community discussed the theme. They were Sylvana Mahmic, the parent of a person with disability, Melanie Schlaeger, an advocate for self-directed disability supports, and Keryl Neville, the CEO of LEAD, an innovative employment and social support provider in the ACT and NSW.

More information on future webinars will be made available on the Upcoming events page on the NDIS website.

Regional update from Victoria

More than 250 young families attended the Barwon Children’s Expo held last month at the Geelong West Town Hall. The event was an opportunity for attendees to develop awareness of the extensive supports available to families with young children.

The National Disability Insurance Agency took part by providing information.

Twenty mainstream childhood services showcased their services, along with 25 other specialist providers who work closely with children with disabilities.

photo of 3 of the Barwon trial site staff preparing for the children’s expo.
Three of the Barwon trial site staff preparing for the Expo (children’s expo).

The NDIA Barwon trial site staff took part in the International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) celebrations on 30 November.

NDIA staff worked with representatives from the City of Greater Geelong RuralAccess program and other community service organisations supported activities held in the City to mark the special day. Activities centred in the Little Malop Street mall with music, dancing and displays from providers, supporting people with a disability.

NDIA staff provided information on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, along with an interactive handball activity to engage and increase interaction at our stand.

To add value to the theme of “inclusion for all”, NDIA (Barwon) contributed to a collection of bras that highlighted the issue of breast screen access for women with a disability. To top the day off, a group of brave Local Area Coordinators (LACs) took part in a “Flash” dance in the middle of the official proceedings. The day was cold, but full of laughter and showed the potential of community engagement for the LACs’ role within the organisation.

Meet Agency staff

Heather Anderson – Planner, Tasmania

Heather also tells us about her latest adventure, aboard the British-flagged tall ship the Lord Nelson on the voyage to Sydney where it joined the International Fleet Review.

Heather Anderson sits high atop the masthead of the tall ship the Lord Nelson.

Heather Anderson sits high atop the masthead of the tall ship the Lord Nelson.

Q. What does your role as a Planner involve?

A. I work with participants and, where appropriate, their families, to identify goals, aspirations and current and future support needs. In less formal language, I meet with participants, and discuss what they want out of life and what supports they might need from the NDIA and other sources to get there. There is a lot of rapport building, and horizon increasing involved, as some people haven’t had the opportunity to consider what could be, as opposed to what is.

Q. How do you approach working with teens and young adults?

A. I tend to approach working with the 15-24 age group with a view that it’s an age where people generally try new things, get to know what’s out there to do, and generally begin to work out where they fit in the world. And why should that be any different for someone because they have a disability? There is sometimes some tension between a young person and caregiver in regards to differing opinions of future directions, but this is usually overcome with a “let’s give it a go and see how it turns out” attitude.

Q. What do you most enjoy about your role?

A. Meeting people and hearing their stories. Over the years I have learned that one of the single most powerful things you can do for someone is to listen to them, especially if they have not felt listened to in the past. There is also a great feeling when participants begin to realise that there is a world of opportunities out there to explore, and that the NDIS, as far as reasonable and necessary, will support them to do that.

Q. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered so far?

A. One of the main challenges for me has been getting to know what is out there in the sector. It might sound odd as I am a wheelchair user, but I am very much a newbie in this space, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Oh, and Siebel has taken some getting used to!

Q. Can you tell us about your recent adventure at sea?

A. I was fortunate to be one of 36 voyage crew (plus 13 permanent crew) on the Lord Nelson on a voyage that left Hobart on 25 September for Sydney to be part of the Navy Fleet Review, arriving on 3 October. The Lord Nelson is unique – it is one of only two fully accessible tall ships in the world, and is sailed by disabled and able-bodied crew. It has features such as braille signage, wheelchair lifts between decks and hearing loops, hand rails and a bowsprit wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. She is operated by the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST); a UK charity that has the mission of promoting the integration of people of all physical abilities through the challenge and adventure of tall ship sailing. I found out about the JST through a friend of mine in the UK, who has the same medical condition as me. She did her first voyage nine years ago, has done many since, and has always been telling me it’s something I should do. So when the opportunity came up to do a voyage in Australian waters, I jumped at the chance.

On my voyage there were five people with various physical disabilities, including myself; the age range was 17-84; and there was a mix of sailing newbies, experienced sailors, ex-navy personnel, defence force employees/reserve volunteers. We hailed from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Ireland.

There is a policy of “no passengers” on board – everyone on board is expected to take part in the running of the ship, as far as their ability allows them. The beauty of it is that no-one tells you what you’d be able to do – you get to see what you can do, and there’s always someone there to step in if you need a hand. As a result, I was bracing yards, releasing buntlines and clew-lines, scrubbing decks, Brasso-ing everything in reach, peeling spuds and even had a go at helming the ship!

The voyage itself was eventful. Bass Strait was rough – a force-10 storm apparently – with the ship being on a significant lean for at least 24 hours, and three sails being shredded. Anchoring in Jervis Bay was a nice way to spend a day, getting a sneak peak of the warships, being watched by whale-watching tour groups and Channel 7 news coming on board to interview a few crew (including me). Sailing into Sydney, while very wet, was amazing. There were cheers and cooee-ing as we sailed under the bridge en route to Darling Harbour.

A couple of the major highlights was being hoisted to the masthead (a platform part way up the mast, just above the main yard), in my manual wheelchair. I now have the photographic evidence that accessibility is just a matter of perspective, and that there is no excuse for buildings not being accessible.

The other highlight was on the last night we were at sea; there was a call across the decks of “dolphins on the bow”. A couple of the young guys came and pushed me to the bow of the ship, and after a bit of coaxing, I was on the bowsprit, with a couple of dolphins playing in the bow wave. Even though we had been whale and dolphin watching since leaving Bass Strait, there was something almost magical about them being so close, and in the dark – they almost glowed.

I met some amazing people on board, some of whom will be friends for a long time. While some have said they won’t be doing another voyage, I did manage to get a few interested looks when I mentioned that the JST does an island hopping route around the Caribbean.

Q. Were there any lessons from that journey?

A. The most clichéd: when the circumstances are right, anything is possible.

The most essential: working brakes on a wheelchair on a moving ship are there, so use them!

The most surprising: physical ability doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to susceptibility to sea sickness.

From Bass Strait: when things aren’t going to plan, keep going forward as turning back isn’t always desirable (some ships that came through after us fared a lot worse than our three ripped sails).

While it was at times terrifying, it was the most incredibly challenging journey, and I can’t wait to get back on board a JST ship (although in calmer seas).

Now that’s access: Heather Anderson is hoisted to the masthead.
Now that’s access: Heather Anderson is hoisted to the masthead.

Regional events

New South Wales

A series of community and provider forums scheduled for February are listed on the “Upcoming events” section of the NDIA website.

The series begins with a Community Forum at the Belmont 16’ Sailing Club at Lake Macquarie on 4 February. The first session starts at 10am and the second at 5.30pm.

Those attending will be able to hear detailed information about the Scheme, meet members of the local NDIA team, learn about becoming involved with the Scheme and ask questions.

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