Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Getting what you want out of the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) can be a tiresome, drawn-out process. Trying for Assistive Technology (AT) funding is no different, and people have had mixed results.
While there’s no guarantee that the NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) will approve your AT request, the more you know and the better prepared you are, the greater chance you’ll have of getting what you need.
In this article, you’ll see what other successful NDIS participants have done, and learn how to apply for assistive technology by following their example.
How to get AT supports funded in your plan
Jeffrey Morrish is one of the success stories in the AT department, having recently had his Strikeforce chair (a high performance electric sports chair) funded by the NDIS, and was the first to do so among the Queensland Power Football Association’s (QPFA) local competition. Having a Strikeforce chair fully funded under his NDIS package has allowed him to play his favourite sport – and we caught up with him to find out how he did it.
“Before asking the NDIS (about the means of getting a Strikeforce chair funded), I got all the research together – price, specs, what company to get it from…” Jeffrey explained. He then prepared a letter detailing the need for a Strikeforce chair, including how it would:
Open up opportunities to compete at National and Internationals levels
Allow him to play for longer, as his previous chair was old and was expected to stop working soon
Enable him to continue to play powerchair football and give him the ability to participate in a sport he’s passionate about
Support him to continue to access his greatest social outlet
Jeffrey then needed an AT assessment to be completed, because a Strikeforce chair has a Level 4 Complexity rating. Luckily, Jeffrey had funding in his plan for an Occupational Therapist (OT) already and was able to approach them to do the assessment using his package.
How to arrange an AT assessment for the NDIS
Whether you need prosthetics, home or car modifications or even a guide dog, the type of equipment you need will determine what information you’ll need to supply for the assessment. The NDIS recommends that you use one of their templates to make sure you’re providing all the evidence they need to assess your funding request.
But not all AT equipment requires an assessment, only those of a higher complexity level. If you’re unsure, check out the information that’s available out there, like the NDIA’s complexity level table, or my care space’s rundown on assistive technology. Alternatively, consult the NDIA themselves, or ask your Local Area Coordinator (LAC).
We recommend that you do all the research around the assistive technology that you’re wanting prior to your pre-planning meeting or plan review. Write down the goal that relates to the assistive technology as one of your plan goals, and if required, get a quote for the AT so that the NDIA know all there is about what you’re requesting.
After your plan has been approved, that’s when you should book your assessment with your therapist. The assessment will be covered under the 'Improved Daily Living Skills' budget (under Capacity Building) in your plan.
In Jeffrey’s case, the assessment involved a review of how the chair would be used to determine how safe it was. Then after submitting all the info and quotes from Power Soccer Shop, the NDIA took about a month to give Jeffrey the green light. The waiting time for approval could be weeks or months, so as we look at that a little later, don’t be afraid to follow up with the NDIA if you haven’t heard back from them.
Among the Queensland Power Football Association’s local competition, sourcing Strikeforce chairs has been a struggle for many players because of how expensive they are, and because these chairs are sourced from overseas. But since Jeffrey received funding for his Strikeforce chair, four others have too.
“Sport has given me a purpose in life and without it I wouldn't have met such amazing life-long friends and wouldn't be as happy in life,” Jeffrey explained. “The NDIS has given me the opportunity to continue to play this fantastic sport and without their help I would be lost.”
Another member of QPFA’s local competition, Sam Uchytil, followed a similar process to Jeffrey when he too, successfully had his Strikeforce chair funded by the NDIS.
Sam knew he wanted to own a Strikeforce chair before he was an NDIA participant, and so he was able to write ‘to continue to play powerchair football and compete at a national level’ as one of his goals prior to his planning meeting.
This made it easier for him to show how this AT will assist the him to pursue his goals, objectives and aspirations: a key part of the criteria the NDIA uses to assess support requests.
Just like Jeffrey, Sam did all the necessary research and prepared a letter of support. He also had the President of the QPFA write a letter too, because he knew that the more evidence he could provide in support of a Strikeforce chair, the better.
It took about a month to get a quote from Power Soccer Shop, but when that arrived Sam gave all his documentation to his physiotherapist, who then filed an AT assessment.
After three weeks with no response from the NDIA, Sam emailed them to explain he needed his Strikeforce chair before the upcoming tournament in a couple of months’ time.
A few days later, the application was approved. Sam is sure his reminder email prompted the quick turn-around, and tells others to do the same.
“Send them (NDIA) an email every week from when you submit the AT assessment,” Sam said. “Continually nag them, otherwise it just sits there, and they’ll never accept it.”
This is great advice, not just for cases of AT assessments, but for NDIS participants in general. First2Care client, Suzanne Camlin, has told us in the past how persistence got her the supports she needed, too.
Sam’s persistence paid off, and a month after NDIA’s approval of his AT assessment, he received his Strikeforce chair.
What you should expect in the AT process
The most common issue people seem to face, particularly when the piece of AT is of a high cost and high complexity level (like the Strikeforce chair), is the time it takes to receive the NDIA’s approval.
Last year, the NDIA received feedback that the timeliness and quality of AT decision making needed improvement. The NDIA responded with a plan to address the points of concern, all of which should now be implemented.
The NDIA have said that they process all the AT applications as soon as possible and that there’s no standard waiting time between when you submit an AT assessment and when it’s approved. The best thing to do is to collect as much evidence as you can and follow the process by using their template.
No system is perfect, though, and while the NDIA has made an effort to improve the AT process, some are yet to experience the results of these improvements.
What happens when the approval is delayed
Brennan Smoothy, another QPFA powerchair football player, has followed the same process as Jeffrey and Sam. He gathered all the evidence, submitting his AT assessment for a Strikeforce chair in early May this year, and hasn’t received any progress updates since then.
One of the goals in his plan was to ‘continue playing powerchair football’ making it clear that to do so he’d need funding for a Strikeforce chair in his plan. And being that Brennan seems to have ticked all the necessary boxes – it’s no wonder this delay is frustrating.
Brennan continues to ask his plan manager and OT for progress updates regarding his AT assessment, and unfortunately that’s all he can do. He hopes his assessment will be reviewed soon, and he can achieve his sporting dreams.
Over to you
Have you had a similar experience trying to get AT supports for yourself? Do you have any other questions about AT? Let us know in the comments below.