Assistive technology is any aid or piece of equipment helps a person perform an everyday task – such as screen reading software, a mobility aid, an electronic communication device or a prosthetic aid. Assistive technology helps people with disability to be independent and participate in everyday life in the community.
Barriers to access
But currently, many older people can’t access the assistive technology they need. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) fully funds assistive technology for people with a disability – but only those aged under 65.
Older Victorians with disability are left to access assistive technology through the aged care system. The problem is that currently, the aged care system doesn’t provide timely and affordable access to assistive technology, due to:
- long waiting lists
- lack of proper assessment of assistive technology needs
- high costs for older people, who have to help pay for expensive equipment that is fully funded for younger people under the NDIS.
The Victorian Government’s State-wide Equipment Program (SWEP) helps, but is also falling short. SWEP is grossly underfunded and plagued by long waiting lists – and it still requires older people to contribute to their assistive technology costs. We also don’t know if the Victorian Government will keep funding SWEP once the NDIS is fully implemented.
These barriers are leaving many older people to sacrifice their limited income to buy equipment – or to simply fall through the cracks. Without the right support, many people with disability can’t participate fully in community activities or stay physically active, and are forced to unnecessarily rely on other people for support. As well as limiting their quality of life, this will increase costs to health and social services over time.
Advocating for better access to assistive technology
Older Victorians deserve better. We have joined the Assistive Technology for Older People Alliance, an alliance of disability advocacy organisations and consumer advocates who have come together to advocate for better access to assistive technology for older people with disability. The Alliance is made up of:
- COTA Victoria
- Polio Australia
- Motor Neuron Disease Association of Victoria
- Multiple Sclerosis Australia
- Blind Citizens Australia
- People with Disabilities Australia
- Post-Polio Victoria
- Bayside Polio Group
- Limbs 4 Life
- Vision Australia
- Australian Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Association
- Parkinson’s Victoria
As part of the Alliance, we’re calling on the Victorian Government to champion the needs of older people with disability by starting a national discussion through the Council of Australian Governments’ Disability Reform Council. The aim is to establish and fund a national aids and equipment program for older people with disability.
For more information or to get involved, contact COTA Victoria Policy Officer Lauren Henley on (03) 9655 2140 or by email to LHenley@cotavic.org.au.