The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) commenced in 2013. For the disability community it was a Godsend. For years disability funding had been controlled by large organisations. Much of the funding was eaten up in overheads and exorbitant management salaries. I remember reading somewhere that as much as 75% of funding was eaten up in overheads and management fees leaving only 25% to deliver actual services.
I am a great supporter of the NDIS. However, even I know that there are teething problems. It is a huge change and the NDIS is not yet running in a way that delivers fair and equitable outcomes for everyone. We have to be patient and allow the NDIS to develop and grow. It is a huge change and a new model. Mistakes will be made. That said, I firmly believe that in time, with the benefit of experience, the NDIS will get it right. But there will be pain before the gain.
Because of this we need to be careful not to knock the NDIS down before it has had a chance to deliver. There are many in the sector who would like nothing more than for the NDIS to fall over. If this were to happen it would be a disaster. We have to give the system a chance to develop and reach its optimal potential.
Recently there has been some uproar within the Deaf community about the NDIS. This has been in relation to the decision to place the National Auslan Booking Service (NABS) under the NDIS pool of funds. For those that do not know, NABS is the service that provides free interpreting for Deaf people who use Auslan to attend private medical appointments.
Deaf Australia have asked Deaf people to sign a petition to keep NABS separate from the NDIS. For better or for worse I think that ship has already sailed. The decision has been made and it wont be reversed any time soon. However, lets not panic. There may be some benefits in having some of NABS services delivered through the NDIS.
There is a lot of misinformation going about. For example people are saying that Deaf people who use Auslan for private medical appointments and who do not qualify for the NDIS will get nothing. Others claim that Deaf people over 65, none of who can get NDIS packages, wont be able to get interpreters for medical appointments any more. Others claim that interpreting under the NDIS will be a disaster because any Tom, Dick or Harriet will be able to set up an ABN and work as an interpreter even if they are not fully qualified.
Some of these fears are valid and some less so. To try and clear the air I met with the head office that runs the NDIS that is called the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) I asked them a number of questions ranging from eligibility, access for over 65s right through to quality assurance. The answers provided below have been fully endorsed by the NDIA.
Who is eligible for NDIS Services? – Firstly, let us be clear. Every person that is Deaf and whose primary method of communication is Auslan is eligible. AND I MEAN EVRY PERSON! Now there may be some people with relatively mild hearing losses who will not qualify but a Deaf person who uses and requires Auslan to communicate in everyday life will qualify. Furthermore Auslan interpreters are seen as a necessary support and will be provided!
There may be some cases where less experienced NDIS planners will make an assessment where they believe a Deaf person can hear enough and therefore not require an Auslan interpreter. I have some concerns that this may happen. It is a case of watch this space.
(People who are hard of hearing, who do not sign may also qualify for captioning or communication assistance, this area needs to be tested. I did not ask about this group)
How do we work out a reasonable amount of interpreting that is required? – The NDIS admitted that this will be a steep learning curve and errors will be made along the way. The problem is that Deaf people make up less than 2% of all people that are accessing the NDIS. However, it should be noted that NDIS packages are not set in stone and can be renegotiated if need be. So if a person gets sick and finds that the amount of interpreting is inadequate and they require more they can approach the NDIA to negotiate more. If they are too sick to do this they can nominate someone to negotiate on their behalf. This is a relatively new area for the NDIA and patience will be needed as they learn and try to develop an appropriate formula to calculate interpreting requirements.
What medical appointments can I use NDIS packages for? – Criteria for using medical funds for interpreting is exactly the same as NABS. They can be used for private medical appointments. There are some restrictions as is the case with the current NABS model. For example, despite what I originally thought, NDIS funds cannot be used for emergency situations at either private or public hospitals. Interpreting in these situations is seen as the responsibility of the hospitals concerned. It is for the Deaf person to be aware of what the criteria are. (Sadly the lobby for full communication access in hospitals will have to continue!)
Who can I use as an interpreter for medical appointments? – The real answer to this is – any one you want. You can book an interpreter through any agency you see fit, even if it is not NABS. You can even book any individual you like if they have an ABN. The NDIA are at pains to point out that they have a rigorous process of registering as a supplier where agencies and individuals must show and document their qualifications and relevant experience.
BUT the Deaf person can, if they so choose, just book any interpreter who has an ABN. This last bit has people up in arms because they fear an influx of unqualified interpreters to the sector. In the words of the NDIA – “If a participant decides to self manage, they can engage anyone they wish. You would expect people who can choose who they engage will know who is good and who isn’t so good.” I can only suggest that if this is something that concerns you or the Deaf sector that you work closely with the NDIA to raise your concerns.
What if I don’t want an NDIS package, can I still access NABS? – It is entirely up to the individual if they want to sign up for an NDIS package. The NDIS want to see Deaf people signing up for NDIS packages because these packages can offer more than just Auslan interpreting. For example individuals can purchase assistive technology or even upgrade hearing aids. However, beware that their are price guidelines for purchasing hearing aids and they may not cover the total cost of any aid that a person wants. There may be out of pocket expenses.
As of now, any person who chooses not to access the NDIS, or is not in a region that the NDIS is currently rolligng out, can continue to access NABS as per normal. There will be no change immediately. HOWEVER, be aware that this may change after 2019 when the NDIS is fully rolled out. Remain diligent and raise any concerns with the NDIA. The NDIA are keen to work closely with the community to identify potential problems and solutions.
Also be aware that if an individual chooses to use an NDIS package then they must use these funds for private medical appointments. You will not be eligible for NABS services as they are currently offered. However, use of NDIS funds for private medical appointments must still meet the criteria currently established under NABS, but there will be limits. It will not change greatly except that Deaf individuals will be responsible for booking the interpreter. They will also have to decide whether to book an interpreter direct or go through an agency.
What if I am over 65 and can’t get an NDIS package? – All Deaf people over 65 can still access NABS as per normal. Word from the NDIA is that after 2019 – ” As I understand they will continue to access the NABS program.” I suggest that the Deaf sector need to remain diligent between now and 2019 to ensure that this remains the case.
It is also worth noting that if any individual that receives an NDIS package before they turn 65 can continue to use this package or they can choose to receive support under programs that are provided for aging Australians.
What are the additional benefits of an NDIS package that includes Auslan interpreting? – The current aim of NDIS packages that include Auslan interpreting is to enhance inclusion. There is a great deal of flexibility for an individual to use their package. For example an individual may want to access a local yoga class. They can book interpreters for that. Or a group of Deaf people may want a personal trainer. They can pool funds to cover interpreting costs. Although they must pay for the personal trainer out of their own pocket obviously. There have been circumstances where individuals have used their packages to book interpreters to communicate with trades people in negotiating and carrying out home renovations. For parties, weddings and funerals the lack of an interpreter could be a thing of the past.
Whether or not the NDIS will think it’s acceptable to book interpreters for an appointment with a bank manager or a lawyer remains to be seen. They may see this as the responsibility of the bank or legal firm. Individuals will need to be clear on what is possible and what is not.
All of the answers to questions I have put together in this article and have been approved by the NDIA. I hope that in this way individuals can make an informed choice as to whether the NDIS will leave them better or worse off than the current system.
There are still issues we need to discuss such as ensuring the use of qualified interpreters so Deaf people are not put at risk. Agencies may also struggle as the going rate of $115 an hour is much less than they are charging now. The profit margins of agencies will take a hit in some areas. Already interpreters are expressing grave concerns about changes to the NABS pay structure.
As with any change there are positives and negatives. I urge everyone to find out all the information that they can before they reject the NDIS for medical interpreting outright.
I hope that readers find this information useful.