By Rikki Chaplin
After a great deal of advocacy by BCA over the past three years, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has advised us that it has developed a policy and procedure to ensure that people who are blind or vision impaired are guaranteed access to correspondence relating to their NDIS plan in the format of their choice.
The NDIA will progressively introduce changes over the next few months which will allow participants to choose their preferred communication format, and update their preferences via an NDIA representative, the National contact centre, or on the Participant Portal. Large font, audio, e-text and braille formats will be available.
The NDIA expects to move to automated requests for correspondence in alternative formats. This will replace the old practice of staff manually processing these requests, which resulted in delays and inconsistencies. Requested documents will be sent directly to an external accessible format provider, who will prepare the accessible version and dispatch it directly to the NDIS participant.
Participants have been telling us about issues with receiving their plans and related correspondence accessibly ever since the NDIS was first rolled out in 2015. BCA wishes to acknowledge the support of all stakeholders across the blindness and vision impairment sector in our call for this matter to be resolved once and for all. However, our victory highlights the unique position BCA holds as an independent voice which is truly representative of people who are blind or vision impaired. BCA’s unbiased stance enables us to ensure that outcomes which are not influenced by the interests of any one service provider are realised.
But what really made the difference were the stories which you, our members, brought to us about the impact that not being able to read your correspondence from the NDIA had on your ability to absorb and comprehend the information you received. Consequently, those of you who could not read your correspondence experienced limitations on your ability to implement the supports allocated to their full capacity, and thereby reach your true potential.
Blindness is often referred to as an information-based disability. A lack of access to information is all too often what actually prevents a person who is blind or vision impaired from accomplishing daily tasks, being employed, or achieving life goals. It is not that one cannot physically do any of these things. Rather, it is the lack of access to critical information about how a task is performed that is the real barrier.
It was only people who are blind or vision impaired themselves, therefore, who could truly articulate the impact that lack of access to their NDIA correspondence was having on their lives. It goes right to the heart of why BCA was established in 1975. This is our organisation, the priorities and activities of which are driven by our own voices, observations and challenges. It was the power of our voices which in the end convinced the NDIA that they had to improve their practices and take our needs seriously. As demonstrated many times before, grassroots advocacy is so often the most effective kind. Amazing things happen when we come together to advocate for a cause which affects all of us. The result of our advocacy efforts as a member driven organisation, like so many of our other achievements, will leave a legacy for those who come after us.
It is therefore safe to say that our advocacy efforts will never become redundant. In order to be truly inclusive, government agencies, developers of new technology, and service providers of all types whether within or outside the disability sector, must be informed by the experiences of people whose lives they cannot live themselves.
So while we have cause to celebrate the guarantee of NDIS correspondence being delivered from now on in one’s chosen accessible format, this victory is a strong reminder of why our work remains vitally important and will not reach an end any time soon. BCA is excited to have delivered successful mentoring and leadership programs over the last year. It is programs such as these which will encourage and equip new members to become more involved.
It is up to us as a member driven organisation to ensure that we have a foundation for the growth and development of advocates and leaders into the future. Without that foundation, we couldn’t have achieved the victory we are now about to enjoy.