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New NDIS independent assessments slammed by disability activists


4 September 2020 at 5:52 pm
Luke Michael
The NDIA says the assessments help to develop an overall picture of a person’s function in a number of areas of their life 


Luke Michael | 4 September 2020 at 5:52 pm


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New NDIS independent assessments slammed by disability activists
4 September 2020 at 5:52 pm

The NDIA says the assessments help to develop an overall picture of a person’s function in a number of areas of their life 

Disability advocates fear the introduction of independent assessments in the National Disability Insurance Scheme is a cost cutting measure to reduce the number of people in the program, despite the government’s insistence the change will make the eligibility process simpler and fairer. 

As part of the federal government’s response to the Tune Review, NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said last week that new independent assessments – fully paid for by the NDIS – will be progressively rolled out from 2021. 

While people currently need to get reports from multiple health providers of their choosing to assess their NDIS eligibility, these new assessments would be conducted by NDIS-appointed healthcare professionals using standardised tools.  

In a statement, Robert said independent assessments will “deliver a simpler, faster and fairer approach for determining a person’s eligibility”.

But disability activists such as NDIS participant Craig Wallace are not convinced. 

Wallace, who is policy manager at ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), told Pro Bono News he was concerned that these assessments will be too brief to determine a person’s NDIS eligibility.

“It’s very difficult to assess a person’s full support needs based on a brief – in some cases 20 minute – interview that is going to be based on their capacities, not disabilities,” Wallace said. 

“I’m certainly worried that some people might actually see this as a test that they have to pass and as a result may be seen as needing less support than they might actually need.” 

Wallace said he saw this as a cost cutting measure to reduce the number of people on the scheme, noting these assessments will also be used to conduct plan reviews. 

He said this called into question where people missing out on support will go.

“These people are going to wind up falling back on state and territory services, on families and carers, or potentially losing the support they need to retain employment,” he said.

“We’ve all seen through the job capacity assessments and the Centrelink systems around Newstart and Robodebt, how these systems can go very, very wrong.

“We don’t need that for people with disability.”

This reform comes on the back of an independent assessment pilot last year that used independent health professionals with experience in disability to undertake functional assessments of people’s capacity.  

The National Disability Insurance Agency said this pilot found 90 per cent of participants were either very satisfied or satisfied by their experience, but the results have not been released publically.

Wallace said this showed a lack of transparency and that there was inadequate consultation before these assessments were announced.

“These assessments were a recommendation of the Tune review, but that review said that this should only be considered after careful and close consultation with people with disabilities, and we are not satisfied that that has happened,” he said.

“For many of us. The first time that we knew about this was when it dropped last Friday.”

People with Disability have also expressed concerns with independent assessments.

Romola Hollywood, PWDA’s director of policy and advocacy, told Pro Bono News that building relationships with medical and allied health professionals, and developing a productive, shared understanding of people with disabilities’ individual needs, can take a lot of time.

“Attending compulsory assessments with healthcare professionals we don’t know, who are unfamiliar with the particulars of our situations, with only one to four hours to communicate our needs and with our basic supports on the line, is highly distressing to many of us,” Hollywood said.

“We have asked the NDIS for clarification on the implementation of these assessments, and the proposal to introduce independent assessments should not go ahead until we know exactly how the model will impact people participating in the scheme.”

Wallace has also called for the government and NDIA to start again with the consultation process.

NDIA defends the reforms

The NDIA have denied that independent assessments will be used to make it harder for people to access the scheme.

An NDIA spokesperson told Pro Bono News the introduction of independent assessments has been part of ongoing discussion regarding improvements to the NDIS experience, including consultation with more than 40 peak health and disability bodies from across the sector. 

They noted that independent assessments were first recommended by the Productivity Commission in 2011, as well as in the Tune review.

They said that independent assessments help to develop an overall picture of a person’s function in a number of areas of their life.

“Assessments are just one piece in a collection of supporting evidence the NDIA considers when making its decision and allocating funding. It does not replace the planning conversation participants will have with their local area coordinator or planner,” they said.

“These new assessments do not change the decision-making process of the agency. Plans will continue to be tailored to individual needs.

“We know that with change there can be uncertainty, that’s why we have begun talking about these changes well in advance of rolling them out so that we can continue gathering feedback, answer questions and address any concerns.” 

A second pilot of the independent assessments involving an estimated 4,000 people will be completed by the end of the year to further inform the process.


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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9 comments

  • Karen Burgess Karen Burgess says:

    Terrible fear-mongering coming from the disability sector. It was part of the scheme and in the planning for a while as people well know. I am a little bit concerned regarding the one-sided reporting. Many people from the disability community do not agree with the people who are regularly appearing to have a voice on these matters. Please be more balanced in your reporting. Thanks.

    • Avatar Dr Robbie Lloyd says:

      Clearly you have a vested interest Karen – thanks for not declaring it but expecting others to behave themselves

      • Karen Burgess says:

        Thanks, Dr Robbie Lloyd, My interest is in a fully functional scheme without the side of politics that seem to come with having disabilities these days. I want quality information and at the moment people are more concerned with anti-government protesting than supporting people with real issues.

        • Avatar Kaye Maher says:

          So Ms Burgess, a difference of opinion to your own is purely a political one and not a genuine concern with Independent Assessments? Who are you speaking for, Ms Burgess?

  • Avatar Bob Buckley says:

    Hi
    I’m a systemic autism advocate. Autism is the most numerous primary disability in the NDIS.
    To my knowledge, the NDIS has not had ongoing discussions or consulted with autism/ASD related peak bodies on standardised assessments. The NDIS already assessed lots of autistic kids using the PEDI-CAT and got mostly misleading results.
    Independent standardised assessments are about getting autistic NDIS participant numbers down to the 20% they originally estimated, rather than the 30%+ that have turned up so far.

  • Avatar Sharyn Kaesehagen says:

    Current standard diagnostic tests for autism are based on predominantly male cohorts.

    Amaze Position Statement: Autistic Women and Girls
    Published March 2018.
    https://www.amaze.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Amaze-Women-and-Girls-March-2018.pdf

    It must also be said that “The DSM-5 replaced the old manual (DSM-IV) in May 2013” 7 years ago. https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/learning-about-autism/assessment-diagnosis/dsm-5-asd-diagnosis.

    The dialogue with and research/assessment of autistic girls and women has attracted much attention since then.

    Some conversation points to think about in relation to implications of NDIS independent standard assessment processes based on male biased diagnostic instruments follow:-

    “Carrie Beckwith-Fellows is a freelance writer and vlogger from England… Diagnosed as autistic at the age of 35 has allowed Carrie to explore the world again from a new perspective. Aware that a late diagnosis can cause issues with identity, relationships and perception, she launched a website that explores the unique post-diagnosis experience to raise awareness and to support other autists diagnosed as adults.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cF2dhWWUyQ4&feature=emb_rel_end

    Rachel Lee Harris is a psychotherapist who is herself autistic.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxJ6_5gMEEE
    and
    https://www.rlharrispsy.com/

    “Why everything you know about autism is wrong | Jac den Houting |”
    Austistic academic.
    TEDxMacquarieUniversity
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1AUdaH-EPM

    “Autism presents differently in girls and boys, and I commonly see girls in clinical practice who have been to three to five other professionals, with the result being no diagnosis or a misdiagnosis that does not recognise their autism-based difficulties,” Professor Bitsika says. “I am also seeing women who have always had difficulties in life – trouble making friends, been subject to bullying, or experienced periods of depression and anxiety – who have an autism disorder that wasn’t picked up when they were young.”
    https://www.une.edu.au/connect/news/2020/08/current-rates-of-autism-in-girls-are-grossly-under-estimated.

    For many autistic people who have experienced trauma it would be useful to link autism specific research and practices with https://www.blueknot.org.au/Resources/Information/Trauma-Informed-Care-and-Practice.

    All the above resources accessed 9/9/2020

    The above just happens to be a portion of the NDIS context that I have been exploring. I am sure there are other situations where niche expertise and lags between latest knowledge and codified diagnostics, policy and practices are an issue.

    My point is that the above is one example of a known potential site for discrimination, human injustice and events that re-traumatise.

    Where adults are concerned they may have already gone through multiple iterations of own and independent medical and allied health assessment: for the disability pension, for reasonable accommodations in housing, education and work, in the industrial and civil courts re acquired disabilities, for mental and allied health plans and in other spheres of their/our lives.

    The parents/carers of dis-abled minors can no doubt recount their own versions of these cycles.

    The “system” is not emotion or energy neutral for the dis-abled person.

    Perhaps the weight of this systemic burden could be counted as an NDIS scheduled domain of
    dis-ability?

  • Avatar Shirley Humphris says:

    I am surprised Karen burgess believes people with disabilities are overreacting to a stranger performing a 3 hr assessment on them. Psychology professional bodies and occupational therapy bodies are concerned as was the latest administrative appeals tribunal.
    http://www.villamanta.org.au/news/aat-rejects-ndis-independent-assessment/

  • Avatar Shirley Humphris says:

    The informed disability community rightly fear these assessments Karen burgess. The professional bodies disagree with you as does the AAT. A short one off assessment is not valid. http://www.villamanta.org.au/news/aat-rejects-ndis-independent-assessment/

  • Avatar John Homan says:

    Critical to any assessment is a respectful, equal and trusting relationship. It is an illusion to think that a three hour (or three day) consultation can achieve this in a contractual, trust free NDIS.

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