Has your child self-harmed? Have they said they want to kill anyone in the house? Can you shower by yourself? Washing your whole body?
These are the invasive questions families and individuals have been subjected to during the independent assessments the Morrison government was hoping to roll out nationwide for the NDIS.
The proposed independent assessments, which the new minister for the NDIS, Linda Reynolds, has put on hold for the time being, would see participants forced to undertake a three-hour assessment with a contractor chosen by the government to determine their eligibility for the scheme.
Currently, participants submit reports provided by their own medical teams.
The government’s proposed reforms have sent fear through Australia’s disabled community, with critics slamming the move as a cruel cost-cutting measure that will undermine participants ability to exercise choice and control.
One of the key architects of the NDIS, Melbourne Disability Institute director and executive chair Bruce Bonyhady, told a parliamentary inquiry on Friday that the changes “completely undermine” the NDIS and called for them to be scrapped.
“‘Independent’ assessments are not independent,” Professor Bonyhady told the inquiry.
Professor Bonyhady urged the government to immediately stop trials of the independent assessments, which he refers to as “robo-planning”.
“Robo-planning will blow up the NDIS. And it will also blow up the vision for this scheme to be there for all Australians,” he said.
NDIS participants who took part in an independent assessments pilot program told the inquiry they were subjected to questions that were intrusive, irrelevant to their situation, and confusing.
Can you wash yourself?
Melbourne woman and NDIS participant Grace McLoughlan addressed the parliamentary inquiry into the proposed reforms in Melbourne on Friday.
Ms McLoughlan suffers from mental illness and said she “felt like I had to prove my disability” to the government-selected assessor who had no specialisation in mental disorders.
Ms McLoughlan said the assessor asked questions and set tasks that often did not apply to her experience and seemed to only be applicable to people with physical disabilities
“I was asked to complete a short activity while the assessor observed,” Ms McLoughlan said.
The assessor watched her fill up her drink bottle out of a park tap.
“This felt pointless. What could she possibly learn about my functional abilities with that activity?” she said.
The assessor also asked her if she had difficulty washing her whole body.
“I thought, yeah, I can turn on the taps. I can stand for the duration of the shower, I can shampoo my hair. So my first response is to say ‘I have no difficulty’,” Ms McLoughlan said.
“It’s not until I consider – low motivation, distress relating to body issues, low sense of self-worth – that I realised I do, in fact, have a lot of difficulty showering.”
Can your child brush their teeth?
Felix Kaester is a single parent and each of his three children has autism.
The armed forces veteran struggled to retain employment before his family received the NDIS. Now he has a full-time job and two care workers who come daily to help out.
Mr Kaester is worried an independent assessor, who is only at the house for three hours, may not fully grasp what his family needs.
“It’s really hard when someone asks you a ‘yes or no’ question like, ‘Can your child brush their teeth?’,” he told the inquiry.
“On good days they can, but on bad days they may have sensory issues around toothpaste and the taste of mint. There may be a whole meltdown over brushing teeth.”
If Mr Kaester doesn’t pass the assessment, his young family will be back to living in poverty, he says.
“If [NDIS support] gets taken away I won’t be able to work anymore, we’ll go back to poverty,” he said.
“It does my head in. It’s just, that’s my fear.”
Has your child threatened to kill anyone?
Chief executive of the Association for Children with Disability Karen Dimmock said she had heard from parents who were concerned government-chosen assessors did not understand their child’s issues.
“Families were asked if their child self-harmed and if their child had threatened to kill other members of the family,” Ms Dimmock said.
“They told me none of this was relevant for their child.”
Professor Bonyhady said the implementation of independent assessments would tear up the social contract at the heart of the NDIS, which is that individualised support is available for all Australians who have a disability.
Trust between the community and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), which runs the NDIS, has reached new lows.
“Which is extraordinary given that the NDIA exists for one purpose and one purpose only – to serve people with disability, their families and carers,” Professor Bonyhady said.
“The trials should therefore be abandoned immediately before they cause further needless stress.”
Among his main concerns is that the NDIA wants to ensure decisions made by independent planners cannot be appealed.
“With no transparency, robo-planning could be used to exclude participants, cut plans or change the NDIS eligibility criteria,” Professor Bonyhady said.
“And the NDIA would not be able to be held to account for such actions.”
The changes would result in NDIS participants undergoing assessments from government-approved doctors to decide what level of help they need.
Independent assessments would also be required for people having their plans reviewed, with concerns the government would use them as a cost-cutting measure.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- ReachOut at au.reachout.com
- Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774