Annabel Hennessy: My experience with hearing loss support shows that ‘fixing’ Labor’s NDIS won’t be easy

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I was 21 and about to graduate from college when I was first diagnosed with hearing loss. When he looked at my hearing test results, the audiologist said he was surprised that I was able to complete my degree without a hearing aid.

I had trouble hearing since I was in school but, like a typical teenager, I had put off everything I had to do. Hearing loss was something I had associated with older people, and I didn’t know anyone my age who used a hearing aid.

But what made the initial diagnosis easier was that I was eligible to receive free hearing aids under the federal government’s hearing services program for ages 21 to 25. It was easy to get into, and I was approved almost immediately.

In contrast, I recently researched whether I would be eligible to access NDIS funding for new hearing aids and was shocked at how confusing it was. I was aware of the complaints about the systems bureaucracy, but naively assumed that my background as a journalist would mean I would be able to find the right information.

It also turned out that while my hearing loss was severe enough that my audiologist was surprised that I was able to finish college without a hearing aid, it’s not severe enough to qualify for the NDIS.

Indeed, the NDIS guidelines use a hearing loss of at least 65 decibels, regardless of the better ear, to determine if someone should have access. I have high frequency loss, which means that because I hear low frequency sounds better, my overall score is pulled up.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many other government funding options for hearing impaired people if they don’t meet the NDIS criteria. For me, I am now too old for the under 25 diet but also a few decades too young for the over 65 diet. Hearing aids are not covered by Medicare.

I’m lucky enough to be employed full time, so I ended up getting a loan that I repay monthly to cover the cost of my new hearing aids. But in total, the hearing aids cost $8,000, which wouldn’t be accessible to many.

I wouldn’t suggest that my experience comes close in any way to some of the horror stories we’ve heard from the NDIS, but it did give some insight into the difficulty of navigating.

Camera iconNew NDIA Chairman Kurt Fearnley and Minister of Government Services Bill Shorten. Credit: AAP

Labor went to the election promising to ‘fix’ the NDIS. This week, new NDIS Minister Bill Shorten appointed former Paralympian Kurt Fearnley as NDIA President.

Mr. Fearnley’s appointment has been well received in the disability sector and it is positive that the NDIS appears to be becoming a higher priority.

However, “fixing” the schema is no small feat. It should also be noted that Labor has not promised greater overall spending on the NDIS. Instead, they said they will “end the waste in the system” and use those savings to better fund supports.

The question of eligibility conditions is undoubtedly going to be tricky. The NDIS has generally focused on the most severe disabilities. However, there are those who have not met the NDIS criteria who clearly need some form of support.

It’s also worth remembering that the NDIS has been shown to pump money back into the economy. Analysis by think tank Per Capita found that for every dollar spent on the NDIS, it generates $2.25 in economic activity. Often when we talk about infrastructure spending it is done from a job creation perspective, perhaps we should think the same way for the NDIS.

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