Quite something

Today the Australian Parliament passed a bill that turns on its head the way this country has treated people with a disability. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) turns our current system on its head, from one of ‘please Sir, can I have some more’ welfare to one which recognises them for what they are, people. It makes a vital change in the whole mentality around disability services by turning it to one of support being an investment not charity.

It will be a medicare type scheme providing a secure and consistent pool of funds for services and support to people with a disability.

Many people think that already exists.

No, what exists is a yearly allocation of funds. Those funds run out half way through the year? No matter, go onto the waiting list. But oh, yes there’s quite a few before you so you might not be successful next year either. But maybe the year after that!

That scenario was told to me at an early information session on the NDIS by a mother trying to secure an automated bed for her profoundly disabled adult son. Those beds cost several thousands of dollars. When she queried what she was meant to do the service suggested she approach a charity or maybe hold a fund-raiser. For her son’s bed.

The NDIS has been a concept kicked around our hallowed halls for 40 years. Something people have given lip service to but not much more.

I do not care what your political leaning, I do.not.care. but this Government is the first to actually action it. The first to say this is important, to say to the four million or so Australians who have a disability that they matter.

To grasp the scale of that, those four million people equates roughly to the population of Melbourne. Then consider the 2.6 million Australians who care for family members with a disability. Now you’ve got the population of Victoria.

As soon as you hear someone start to say how great it is but gee, how we can fund this, how we can pay for it I want you to tell them you’re talking about the population of Victoria. You’re going to turn your back on an entire State?

I want you to tell them that ALMOST HALF of people living with a disability in Australia live in poverty or very close to it.

Tell them the median income of someone with a disability is HALF that of someone without a disability and that even though the number of people with a disability grows, participation in the workforce for the sector has remained unchanged since 2003.

I want you to tell them that they are witnessing something of magnitude, something other countries will look to, a true moment in time for our political and social history.

It is the sign of a civilised society.

If we need to make some hard calls to make it work then that is what will be done.

Not because it’s nice, not because it makes us feel good, but because this is about ensuring no one gets left behind. That no matter what dodgy chromosome you were born with, or whether you can hear, or see, or walk or talk, YOU MATTER.

Now the scheme won’t cover all of us. It is designed to support the most severely disabled among us. I actually wonder if Oscar will be eligible but that is of little concern because there are so so many who do.

At the end of last year I spoke at length with Senator Jan McLucas, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Disability and Carers. She’s been working on disability matters since 2004 when a raft of recommendations were made after a Senate Enquiry into disability services but even then she said they knew they were “tinkering at the edges”.

The NDIS looks at the individual and their needs over a lifetime. It gives families one point of contact and while it doesn’t sound like much it means families only need to provide the history once. It’s about investing in the individual. “We want families to stay strong, stay together and be supported as they want to be supported,” she said.

Some states – WA and Tasmania – actually have a model along those lines. Jog it in WA and Tas!

For the rest of us it will take some time with pilot programs starting in five states to get it underway. One of the most exciting aspects Jan told me about the scheme is that the system will be one that looks at the individual’s needs at that point in time. At the moment you have to re-invent the wheel at every milestone.

“If you’re a 6 month old child with Downs Syndrome the support is essentially to the mum and dad. Totally different to a 16 year old with Downs and then extrapolate that to when they’re 26. The focus on the person will be much more acute but we’ll also be viewing the person in their environment,” she said.

I hope people not impacted by a disability grasp the gravity of that.

ABC story here.

ONWARD!