At the same time, the report of the Productivity Commission into disability care and support, which made the recommendation for the establishment of such a scheme, was released to the public.
Like other milestones in achieving rights and equity for people with disability, such as the Disability Services Act of 1986, reforming the disability service system will require politicians of all persuasions to come on board. And there appears to be a good chance that will happen. But the new system will not be fully operational for another seven years. Will it be worth the wait? What will the NDIS offer people with disability, and families and carers?
Firstly, there is consensus amongst people with disability, families, advocates, service providers and politicians that the current disability service system is broken and not worth repairing – a different approach is required. There is a lack of availability and inconsistency of quality within service provision, and systemic failures with the differential ways in which the States and Territories administer their disability supports. A national approach, which the NDIS promises, should go some way to meeting the expectations of equity and certainty of support that people have been denied to date. Entitlement and an effective response to identified need are certainly key expectations.
Secondly, there is the promise of more money. Funding alone would not fix the current system, but there is agreement that the sector as a whole is significantly under-resourced – and that this has contributed greatly to the rationing of support which has left many people with disability isolated and unsupported.
Services will not be an end in themselves, but rather the means by which people with disability get to participate on an equal basis with other members of the community. People with disability will truly become “consumers”, with the power to shop around and make choices based on their satisfaction with the services they have tried. And it doesn’t stop there. Where individualised funding has been developed overseas there are many examples of people choosing to use those funds to purchase goods and services from agencies other than specialist disability services.
Fourthly, the new system will be set up to genuinely honour the choices made by people with disability and the control they exert. Currently this can be tokenistic, and in some service settings only a handful of choices are offered to the people who use them. Under the NDIS not only will the big life decisions have to be made by the person receiving support, but also the myriad of daily choices that come with leading an ordinary life. This brings with it exciting challenges of providing support and assistance for people who may experience difficulty with ples again demonstrate that, rather than being onerous, this requirement to make choices and take decisions helps people with disability to develop confidence and self-esteem.
The result should be that people with disability, in control of the type, quality and timing of their supports, should now expect to achieve the same goals as others in the community: to learn, to work, to socialise, to have families, to travel, to participate in civic life tendermeets. And in so doing people with disability will have access to the natural supports and infrastructure that society relies upon, but takes so much for granted. The claims made yesterday that the NDIS should not be viewed purely as a cost, but will generate a benefit, measurable in dollars, is correct. Implemented well it will ensure that society benefits from the talents that people with disability have to offer, and do away with the need for a parallel infrastructure to accommodate “special” needs.
There is a much to be excited and optimistic about with the NDIS, and the work of the Productivity Commission is to be commended, as are the efforts of the official NIDS campaign, Every Australian Counts. The NDIS will not be a utopia, but it will be a new and very different system, which will be strengthened by the following principles:
1) It is for ALL people in Australia, and should be available to people as and when they require it
Thirdly, to drive a different relationship with service providers, the NDIS will deliver its funds to individuals, who will be encouraged to not just identify their basic needs, but to put their requests for support in the context of what they aspire to in their lives
2) It recognises that many of the barriers that impede the inclusion of people with disability in society lie within the community itself – inaccessible public transport, poor community attitudes, discrimination, marginal access to education, employment etc.
3) It values and resources the ambitions and plans of people with disability, so that they are empowered, and all people involved in the support arrangement are working toward a common goal
4) It respects and actively aims to promote the rights of people with disability, as articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – using this as the standard Australia could achieve a disability support system which is the envy of the world.
The NDIS has a pivotal role, indeed an incentive, to break down these barriers
may well be marked in future as the start of something quite remarkable in the social history of people with disability in Australia. It is the beginning point, and the hard work starts now. Achieving the vision that the Productivity Commission’s report has laid the foundations for will necessarily involve significant input from people with disability and families – it makes no sense for a user-led system to be devised and laid out on a plate by administrators and service providers. It needs to be the rallying point for widespread and inclusive discussion about how we dismantle the crumbling edifice of the current system, and install a new process which from the start will enjoy the confidence of all Australians.