A vision-impaired woman from Adelaide says she lives in fear of losing her beloved guide dog Molly because of lengthy delays to National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding in South Australia.
The Royal Society for the Blind (RSB) told the ABC on Monday the NDIS had only fully funded two of its guide dogs in the state in the 18 months since the disability insurance scheme was introduced.
The guide dog provider said it would normally have processed between 15 and 20 dogs in the state over the same period.
Guide dog owner Annette Holden said the delays meant she worried about what would happen to her if she lost her seven-year-old guide dog Molly.
“The world would be so empty. It’s unbearable to think about it,” she said.
“Without Molly, I wouldn’t have the confidence to go out at night, I wouldn’t be able to do anything that makes my life worthwhile… I would be almost housebound.”
RSB spokesperson Jody Martin-Rankin said delays of up to nine months for guide dog funding meant it was the reality for many clients.
She said in some cases the RSB had stepped in to provide dogs before clients were funded, but as soon as they had provided the dog, they were told the NDIS would not fund it.
“More than 10 clients have not received NDIS fully-funded guide dogs in the past 12 months,” she said.
“They have been very clear that the dog won’t be funded retrospectively,” she said.
Ms Holden said many in the community lived in fear of losing their lifeline.
“It’s causing enormous anxiety within the vision-impaired community,” she said.
She said the vision-impaired community needed certainty.
“Please governments, get it working, give us some consistency, some compassion and some certainty,” she said.
‘It’s quite a long investment’
The RSB said delays had huge flow-on impacts for the organisation as allocating a dog was a long and expensive process.
“Our team works to breed the dogs, raise the puppies, educate the puppies and match the dog, and then allocate the dog,” Ms Martin-Rankin said.
“It take about two years, so it’s quite a long investment.”
She said the delays meant they could not properly plan and allocate guide dogs.
“We have a whole heap of dogs that should be out, and should be matched to people but they’re actually waiting … they’re becoming de-conditioned,” she said.
Labor MP Nat Cook said it was affecting the organisation’s ability to stay afloat financially.
“People who used to donate quite generously have wound back because they think the dogs are being funded by the NDIS, but that’s not actually what we’re seeing,” she said.
Vision-impaired community needs ‘consistency’
Ms Martin-Rankin said the RSB wanted to work with the NDIS to streamline the process and that it was aware similar providers interstate were not facing such delays.
“A timely flow in the process, if we were able to clearly assess the person, they could go to NDIS, and have that approved really quickly in a four-week period, then we could see these issues resolved,” she said.
Desiree Colmenares from fellow provider, Guide Dogs SA-NT, said nationally, guide dog approvals were “doing OK”.
However, Labor has called on the state government to step in and fund the dogs that are not being allocated through the NDIS.
“It is an absolute disgrace that many visually-impaired South Australians are not receiving funding through the NDIS to cover the cost of guide dogs,” Ms Cook said.
South Australian Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink said she was aware of the issue and it had already been raised.
“The Royal Society for the Blind raised this issue with me and I formally raised these concerns with the Minister for Families and Services Paul Fletcher earlier this month,” she said.
A spokesperson from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) said anyone eligible for the NDIS would receive support.
“As at 31 December 2018, there were 176 NDIS participants with a guide dog in their plan, 19 of whom are located in South Australia,” the spokesperson said.
“Any person who is eligible for the NDIS will receive the reasonable and necessary supports they need.”
The concerns follow two incidents for vision-impaired people and their guide dogs in Adelaide so far this year.
In January, Adelaide’s Ellen Fraser-Barbour, who is deaf-blind, and her friends were refused service at Vietnamese restaurant Little NNQ because of her guide dog.
Less than two months later, Rachael Leahcar, who is well-known for her appearance as a finalist on The Voice Australia in 2012, was reduced to tears after being refused entry to an Uber with her guide dog while trying to get to an Adelaide Fringe festival show.