Calls grow to end discrimination against older Australians

More than 60 organisations across the health, disability and aged care sectors have released a joint statement calling on the federal government to end the exclusion of older Australians from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

A group calling itself Assistive Technology For All (ATFA) has released a statement calling on the government to fund assistive technologies for older Australians living with a disability through the NDIS.

Signatories on the joint statement include organisations such as Council on the Ageing Australia, Consumers Health Forum of Australia, National Disability Services and the Older Persons Advocacy Network.

Assistive technologies include physical supports that help people with a disability do something more easily or do something that would otherwise not be able to do.

Read: Greens call for removal of the age cap in the NDIS

First introduced in 2013, the NDIS is a federal program designed to provide Australians living with a “permanent and significant” disability with full funding for their support needs.

But there is a catch.

The scheme is only available to those under the age of 65. If you’re over 65 and living with a disability, you need to apply for assistance through the federal government’s My Aged Care (MAC) platform.

“For years, the federal government has focused exclusively on the NDIS as the vehicle to support people with disability,” says campaign coordinator Lauren Henley.

“In doing so, it has continued to ignore the needs of the many Australians with disability who are not eligible for the scheme, which includes many people over 65.”

Read: Advantages of disability

As the name suggests, MAC is a platform for matching older Australians with aged care providers. There are provisions under MAC for assistive technologies, but they are nowhere near as generous as those received under the NDIS.

For older Australians living with a disability, it can be hard to get access to adequate funding and access to assistive technology. Ms Henley says with the laser focus on NDIS funding, politicians have forgotten about older people.

“Older people who can’t access the NDIS are often forced to wait more than a year to access funding for assistive technology. It’s heartbreaking to see older people denied access to the same life-changing support as younger Australians, even though they need it just as much,” she says.

“To tell their families that they can’t get funding for a wheelchair that will give them back their independence and quality of life, simply because they are too old.

“If you have a disability and you need a prosthetic leg, that need doesn’t disappear the day you turn 65. Depriving people of this support is simply ageism,” Ms Henley says.

Read: Centrelink boss tells how to ensure benefits are paid promptly

The discrimination has not gone completely unnoticed in Canberra. Independent MP Zali Steggall introduced a petition to parliament in 2019 to end the discrimination on behalf of Chris English, who fainted while celebrating his 69th birthday, fell down some stairs and became a quadriplegic.

Under the NDIS, Mr English would have been entitled to receive up to $300,000 in support. But due to his age, he was placed on the My Aged Care service where he would receive just over $50,000.

“I am calling on either an exemption for people aged over 65 who have an accident or illness to be supported under NDIS or for My Aged Care to better cater for those with a disability unrelated to ageing,” Ms Steggall said at the time.

Despite being signed by more than 19,000 people, the petition has so far not been actioned.

With the next federal election just around the corner, can the government afford to keep discriminating against older Australians? Were you aware that over-65s were excluded from the NDIS? Would this change your voting intentions at the next election? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer