How You Won the Battle for Accessible NDIS Correspondence

By Rikki Chaplin

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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.

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Media Release: NDIS Correspondence is Now Accessible to People who are Blind or Vision Impaired

Thanks to strong advocacy by Blind Citizens Australia, its members and partner organisations, participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme will now receive correspondence in their preferred format.

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 expect to move to automated requests for correspondence in alternative formats by the end of August 2019.  Requested documents will be sent directly to an external accessible format provider who will prepare the accessible version and despatch directly to the NDIS Participant to reduce delays.

Up to now requests for alternative formats have been managed by NDIA planners via a manual process and participants often report delays and difficulty in getting correspondence in their chosen format.  Print copy plans and letters are currently generated automatically and staff must intervene manually where needed to support a participant’s preference. This has resulted in an inconsistent approach long delay before a participant receives the alternative format.

“This is a tremendously important step forward for people who are blind or vision impaired. Blindness is often referred to as an information-based disability. Access to information is often the only thing that prevents a person who is blind or vision impaired from carrying out tasks and activities that they otherwise could,” said Rikki Chaplin, Acting CEO Blind Citizens Australia.

“To be able to easily read your NDIS plan is vital if you’re going to be able to take full advantage of the supports in your plan. I congratulate the NDIA on ensuring that people who are blind or vision impaired will have reliable and consistent access to their plans in the format which is right for them.”

The NDIA has committed to continuous improvement and will seek feedback by engaging with peak bodies such as BCA and with the Participant Reference Group.

Read the full media release here (Word version)

Please let us know if you’d like this information in another format for accessibility.

Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mr Morrison,

In your victory speech on Saturday night, you said that you would govern for “all Australians”. That statement gave many people with disability hope that they would have a stronger voice and that their needs would be given higher priority by your Government in this parliamentary term.

Blind Citizens Australia believes there are three opportunities for you to demonstrate, quickly and decisively, your commitment to governing for “all Australians”.

  1. End the inequality which sees Australians who are blind or vision impaired denied the right to watch television while people who are deaf or hearing impaired have their right to do so enshrined in legislation;
  2. Appoint a suitably qualified person with disability as CEO of the NDIS to ensure the needs and aspirations of people with disability are central to decision-making; and
  3. Review the appointments of Commissioners to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, to replace those Commissioners with actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

Audio Description

For over twenty years now, we have been advocating for Audio Description, an additional audio track which provides us with details of action and scenery so we can enjoy television like other Australians. During the election campaign, Labour committed $4 million in funding to the ABC and SBS for the establishment of an Audio Description service, yet to date, your party has remained silent on the issue.

You got your miracle on Saturday night, now you have the opportunity to “pay it forward” and ensure we have the same access to television as people who are deaf or hearing impaired in this country. That would constitute a miracle for us and would be a visible way to demonstrate your commitment to governing for “all Australians”.

A Disability-led NDIS

Blind Citizens Australia works actively and constructively with the NDIA to ensure our NDIS provides choice and control for participants whilst remaining economically sustainable. We are confident that, if led by a skilled and highly qualified executive with disability, the culture of the scheme would better reflect our needs and aspirations. After all, you wouldn’t put a teacher in charge of a bank, and so it is inconceivable that you would put a non-disabled person in charge of a scheme designed to ensure people with disability have the capacity to lead their best life.

What’s more, there is no doubt that leaders with the management experience and business acumen exist. You need only look to the Disability Leadership Institute, or to members of disabled persons organisations like ours for examples of the talent within our community. So, give us a go so that we, the experts, can work with you to get the NDIS working better for us.

Royal Commission

When you announced the Royal Commission into the epidemic of violence and abuse against us over many years, people with disability, our organisations and supporters were relieved and hopeful. Now that the election is over, we trust that you will heed our calls to review the appointment of two Commissioners, whose conflicts of interest threaten the integrity of the Royal Commission process. This is essential if we are to be confident that we can give evidence safely.

Mr Morrison, congratulations to you and your colleagues on your re-election. On behalf of the members of Blind Citizens Australia, and the thousands of people who are blind or vision impaired that we represent, we wish you all the very best for your upcoming term as our Prime Minister.

People with disability, more often than not, are the quiet Australians you spoke of in your campaign. We want nothing more than the right to live, work and play in communities which acknowledge our rights and afford us safety. We’re taking your advice; we’re having a go like most Australians, but we are tired. Tired of having to fight just to be allowed to watch TV with our family and friends, with no indication of when that might change. Tired of not being considered sufficiently talented, economically responsible or experienced to lead our own insurance scheme. Tired of having to fight for the right to give evidence safely in our own Royal Commission.

Despite all our best efforts to work collaboratively with your Ministers and Government agencies, people with disability are not getting a fair go right now. But like you, we believe in miracles, so we look forward to working with you to see ours come to fruition during your first 100 days in Government.

We remain ready, willing, and well able to support you in achieving the next miracle. 

Yours sincerely

Emma Bennison
Chief Executive Officer
Blind Citizens Australia

In the Scheme of Things

By Kristin Nuske


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Editor’s Note

Kristin Nuske has worked for BCA since February this year, providing support and advice to Victorians who are challenged by aspects of dealing with the NDIS or My Aged Care. More recently, she has begun providing support to members nationwide.

This support includes, but is not limited to, accessing information regarding the Scheme or My Aged Care, and whether someone could consider accessing, or may be eligible for either. Here, she discusses some of the challenges faced by members she has been assisting with NDIS planning and participation. A future article will explore issues relating to My Aged Care in similar detail.

* * * * *

In March this year, I attended a panel discussion at the State Library as part of the Bold Series presented by Latrobe University. The panel broadly examined the NDIS since its roll out began in the Geelong trial site in 2013.

The conversation brought to my attention some of the roadblocks which are preventing the scheme from delivering on its promises. A lady in the audience raised a point, based on her experience as a Support Coordinator. She stated that in the time that she had worked at the organisation she represented, they had received more than 80 plans. It wasn’t clear whether a Local Area Coordinator or an NDIS planner facilitated them, but every one of those plans required a review.

In my role at BCA, I have seen a similar trend. Many of the members who I have had contact with share their experiences, most of which have warranted complaints. These complaints range from difficulties accessing information, to disappointment with their allocated Planner in their first meeting.

Accessing information seems to be a challenge for many of us. When I called the NDIA and asked for information to be provided in large print, I was told that the request was emailed to the print department while I waited on the telephone. Four months later, the information has still not arrived.

If you have made a request to either the NDIS or My Aged Care for information in an alternative format, and it has been responded to positively and swiftly, or you have not been treated as you expect and/or not provided with accessible information, please let us know of your experience.

The NDIS has, for many reasons, not approved items or reasonable and necessary supports once a plan has been prepared. Once complaints which relate to not funding supports have been made final through a “review of a reviewable decision” process, they may be brought to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, (AAT).

Sara Dingold from Disability Services Consulting recently wrote that as of March this year, some 757 cases have been referred to the AAT. This assures further delays for participants trying to activate their planned supports. An investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into the nature and number of reviews by the NDIA found that as of February, it was dealing with about 8,100 reviews and receiving about 620 new review requests per week.

Assistive technology and equipment are funding areas that have impacted many people who are blind or vision impaired. Assistive technology specialists or occupational therapists are generally relied upon to help select the most appropriate pieces of equipment, and provide quotes and a report outlining why these items are reasonable and necessary according to the NDIS Act.

One of our members, Liz, after quotes for her items had been submitted, was shocked by a comment from her occupational therapist. “I was told to expect not to hear for three to four months whether the items were to be approved,” she said.

In fact, one of the items, a pair of prescription sunglasses, was not approved because the NDIS claimed that this was an everyday item. How is this so, when Liz experiences extreme glare and visual disruption resulting from her vision impairment?

Liz contacted BCA to see if we could provide some support to her, as she felt aspects of her experience since she has become an NDIS participant needed some attention. “Although it can be daunting to speak up,” she said, “it is worth doing in order to create a better system.” At this point, the issues Liz raised in a complaint, care of her MP, have not yet been responded to or resolved by a delegate from the NDIA.

Another person contacted me recently who is now in his second year as a participant. His gripe is that he continues to wait after almost a year to have items approved. After 18 months this gentleman has only accessed transport from his plan. This is largely due to the reporting by the Assistive Technology Specialist not satisfying the NDIA’s reporting and supportive evidence requirements.

One last issue, and general complaint, relates to the language and context used in important documents such as a person’s individual plan. The assumption is that one can understand the ideas presented, and what dollars relate to the various supports one requires. This is indeed not the case for Liz. “The language that was presented in my plan I believe is a barrier to being able to move forward with implementing my supports,” she said.

Despite all the problems I’ve described, the overall impression I drew from the panel I attended in March was that the NDIS is a good policy, and we need to remain optimistic. On the surface there is a will and a want to see the NDIS deliver the supports that individuals may need to live the best life that they can.

NDIA CEO Rob De Luca has acknowledged some of the inconsistencies in the delivery of the scheme. “We realise that improvements are still needed to make sure that the participant experience is consistently positive,” he wrote in a recent report.

In an effort to address problems like those described here, De Luca has committed to consulting with a number of service providers, and met in September with BCA’s CEO, Emma Bennison. This meeting represents an encouraging step in the right direction.

We agree there is no smooth sailing, but many bumps in the road. It is only the courage and persistence of many voices that will create a system that can be benchmarked across the world.

Editor’s Note

Don’t forget that as well as assistance for Victorians, Kristin can now offer telephone assistance with accessing the NDIS or My Aged Care to people who are blind or vision impaired nationally. For further information or to discuss the sorts of assistance that can be provided, please call BCA on 1800 033 660, or email


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My NDIS Experience

Vicki Alipasinopoulos


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Editor’s Note

Disability advocates are raising concerns about the delivery of the NDIS, with a recent report from Flinders University suggesting that a third of participants felt no better off under the scheme, and 20 per cent feel worse off. Critics say that the scheme is very confusing, that decision-making can be inexpert and inconsistent, and that those who aren’t good at self-advocacy are at a disadvantage.

Vicki’s struggle to access the NDIS illustrates this last point in particular. Without her proactive approach, she may have been lost in the system for even longer. Her story is useful both as a warning of the problems new clients may face, and as practical advice on how to address them if they arise.


Being a participant of the NDIS, I thought I would write about my experiences with accessing the scheme, from registration to accessing services. I am totally blind, and have other disability related issues. I commenced the registration process on 1st May 2017, hoping that I wouldn’t have to wait too long to meet with a Planner by the time it rolled out in my area on November 1st.

I was sent the paperwork to be filled out by my local GP or relevant Specialist, and was required to return the paperwork to the NDIA within two weeks, which I did. I did not receive any confirmation to advise whether it had been received or whether I was eligible or not.

When I did not hear back by early August, I phoned the NDIA, and was informed that my paperwork was yet to be processed. I was encouraged to call back in September. I called again in mid-September, and was informed that the NDIA couldn’t give me a time frame for when I would hear about my eligibility. It was suggested I call back in a couple of weeks.

By this stage, I felt particularly frustrated, as I was hearing from others that they were being contacted by the NDIA to register. If they had registered themselves, they received a written response pretty quickly, often within a month.

As the NDIS was getting closer to commencing in my area, I became concerned that I wouldn’t receive assistance in a timely manner, given I commenced the registration process back in May. I therefore contacted BCA’s advocacy team for assistance. BCA emailed the NDIS feedback line, relaying my concerns and issues.

The automated message which BCA received said that the NDIS would attempt to resolve my issue within 21 days. When the 21 days was nearly up, neither BCA nor I had heard back from the NDIA. I therefore got in touch with my local Federal Member of Parliament in mid-October to advocate on my behalf. At this stage, I didn’t even have an NDIS number.

My local Federal MP made contact with the NDIA. Shortly after this, I heard back from both the MP and the NDIA, informing me there had been a glitch with the NDIS computer system, hence the delay in sending a letter regarding my eligibility.

I was then told that I would be contacted by a Planner in the near future. However, the 1st of November had been and gone, and I still hadn’t heard from a Planner. Following further contact from my local MP, I was contacted to inform me that I would be contacted in the first quarter of 2018, but they couldn’t give me a precise date.

I explained that I relied on family to access the community, which made this uncertainty really difficult, to no avail. I asked if I could speak to someone higher up, and was informed I couldn’t, as Management were assisting with making phone calls to participants. I was told that my feedback would go on my record. It seems to me, though, that the feedback wasn’t going anywhere, and unlike other agencies, the NDIA didn’t seem to have a proper complaints process.

Not satisfied with this outcome, I met with the Hon Kevin Andrews, Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, an MP in a neighbouring electorate, in late November. After liaising with the Hon Kevin Andrews and his staff, I found out just before Christmas that the NDIA had agreed to contact me in January to arrange a planning meeting, which they did.

I met with a Planner in late January, and my Plan was approved within a week. I didn’t get everything I asked for. I certainly felt I wasn’t approved enough funding in the area of adaptive technology. I felt the Planner didn’t have a great understanding of how much some of the specialist equipment actually costs. For example, the Planner seemed to see scanners as a piece of equipment that anyone would go and buy from Kmart or Harvey Norman.

Despite potentially having to have part of my Plan reviewed, I am now accessing the community. Having said that, accessing services through the NDIS once the Plan has been approved has not been without its challenges. Due to NDIS, some service providers have had longer than usual waiting lists. With other services, delays can still stretch out, as the providers need to enter a lot of information about your Plan before they can commence. Regardless of an individual’s circumstances, these delays can be very difficult, particularly if the services are required urgently.


Editor’s Note

The difficulties Vicki experienced are worrying, not just because of the harm and frustration she personally suffered. She was well-equipped to speak up on her own behalf, and knew what to do when she realised she wasn’t being heard. But we can’t assume that everyone is in her position.

If people who lack advocacy skills are at risk of being left behind, and if Planners lack understanding of the adaptive technology they’re assessing, these are failures we cannot accept. The NDIS could be a dream come true for people with a disability in Australia. This is why it’s vital that we highlight cases like Vicki’s, because it won’t come true if we give up when we’re half way there.


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