At least 50% of older Victorians have a disability that may impact on their mobility, communication or self-care. While many of these people will require or benefit from the use of assistive technology, it is not an easy thing for them to access.
Grab rails, ramps, chair lifts, hoists, prosthetic aids, wheelchairs and electric scooters are all examples of assistive technology. These solutions facilitate independence and participation in everyday activities, reduce the risk of accidents and falls and enable people to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible. Importantly they reduce people’s vulnerability to violence, abuse and neglect.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is able to fully fund the assistive technology that is required by participants. An individual must be under 65 at the time of making an access request for the scheme. This means that many older people with disability are not eligible. The funding landscape for those who are excluded from the NDIS is complex and confusing for people to navigate. High co-payments and long waiting lists also prevent older Victorians from accessing assistive technology when they need it most.
What we did
COTA Victoria was aware that there were many other organisations who were concerned about the level of unmet need that existed for people with disability outside the NDIS. The barriers to older people accessing assistive technology could not be resolved through state-based advocacy alone. A national approach was needed, and the sector needed to be united in what it was asking for, as this would provide us with the best chance of achieving change.
With these factors in mind, COTA Victoria formed the Assistive Technology for All Alliance and campaign in late 2019. ATFA is a national alliance of peak bodies and consumers advocates spanning the health, aging and disability sectors. It now has over fifteen members. Together, we are advocating for the establishment of a national assistive technology program to support people with disability who are excluded from the NDIS – the majority of whom are over 65.
The COVID-19 pandemic derailed many of the plans we had put in place to progress the Assistive Technology For All campaign in 2020, but we were still able to forge ahead with a number of important initiatives. In 2020, we:
- Gained mainstream media coverage with a story on ABC television, radio and print
- Created a campaign website
- Presented at the 2020 Virtual Disability Conference
- Completed submissions to the review of the Victorian State Disability Plan, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, the Review of the National Disability Strategy and the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
Throughout 2019, one of the shortfalls of the campaign had been the fact that there was limited involvement from people with lived experience of the issues we were trying to address. We started to close this gap in 2020 by setting up a Facebook group and holding a consumer focus group to inform our submission to the review of the National Disability Strategy. We are mindful that we still have a lot of work to do to build grass roots involvement in the campaign.
Alliance members continue to assist with a broad range of tasks including communications, submission-writing, drafting collateral and sourcing funding opportunities. This has significantly reduced the number of COTA Victoria staff hours required to support the campaign.
Coordinating this project has positioned COTA Victoria as a key voice on issues impacting upon the dignity and rights of marginalised older people. It has also increased our credibility in working with and understanding the needs of older people with disability. We have also established new and lasting relationships with several influential people across the ageing and disability sectors