Disabled Aussies To Be Literally Left Stranded Thanks To Crucial Funding Change
Following the complete National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) roll-out on June 30, some states are choosing to eliminate taxi subsidies, forcing people with disabilities to rely on negligible transport funding.
An Australian man with cerebral palsy is spending $116 per fortnight on taxis — and is expecting to pay even more — when changes to South Australia's taxi subsidy scheme strip him of access to vouchers.
Michael Olbrich is a 28-year-old NDIS participant who is legally blind and has cerebral palsy and high-functioning autism.
No one was supposed to be "worse off" under this NDIS but when the taxi vouchers expire for NDIS participants in South Australia, Michael will be forced to cut back.
"It’s been vital to my everyday life where I rely on the subsidies to get around out of home," Michael told 10 daily.
"I have definitely scaled down my frequency and willingness to get out often."
Michael currently receives $68 a fortnight for transportation to doctors’ appointments, psychology sessions and volunteering events.
Even with the combined NDIS funding and his 75 percent discount on the $40 maximum fare limit, Michael is already $116 out-of-pocket a fortnight.
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When Michael is denied taxi vouchers he will receive $34 a week for his transport needs.
For wheelchair-bound and vision-impaired Michael, catching public transport in Adelaide is not a viable option.
"We would try to use the bus but the ones that are ‘accessible’ would turn up and they wouldn’t be accessible or the ramps would be broken," his mother Elly Olbrich said.
As per the 'choice and control' ethos which the NDIS was established under, Michael's parents, Elly and Gary Olbrich, have asked the NDIS to redirect some of Michael's funding to cover transport costs.
But the family was told by an NDIS coordinator that it wasn't possible.
"We were told the NDIS is supposed to be here to give you the control and resources to use the funds to live the life you want to live and they’re saying ‘no, you can’t use this money to pay for the taxis’," Elly told 10 daily.
The NDIS transport fund provides three tiers of funding in cases when using public transport is not an option. Michael is currently on level one where participants who complete less than 15 hours a week of work or study commitments can receive up to $1,606 a year.
While there will be no changes to the taxi subsidy scheme in New South Wales, taxi vouchers will be cut for Queensland NDIS recipients from June 30, and for those with an NDIS-funded plan in Tasmania on December 31, 2023.
Victoria and Western Australia are still reviewing the future of taxi subsidies but in South Australia, six months after the June 30 deadline, taxi vouchers will be inaccessible for 1,200 people transitioning to the NDIS.
Many say the NDIS allowance is not high enough, considering the exorbitant cost of taxis and slashing of state subsidies.
They fear the annihilation of taxi vouchers will cause some disabled people — who may already be isolated from the community — to become housebound.
While some states are moving to cut subsidies and shift the responsibility to a federal level, a National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) spokesperson told 10 daily that "the provision of taxi subsidies is solely the responsibility of the relevant state or territory government".
Photo: Getty Images.
"NDIA continues to work with all states and territories through the Disability Reform Council’s Senior Officials Transport Working Group to consider the transition of disability transport supports into the NDIS," an NDIA spokesperson said.
South Australia Minister for Transport Stephan Knoll assured 10 daily that the "state government is working towards a solution" and blamed Labor for creating "the mess".
"The State Government is working towards a solution and unlike Labor, we will not leave our most vulnerable stranded," Mr Knoll said.
"Even those SATSS (South Australian Transport Subsidy Scheme) members transitioning to the NDIS will be able to receive a further book of 80 vouchers, approximately six months' worth, before 30 June 2019 as we work towards the permanent solution,” he said.
The Olbrich family said they are fortunate to be able to support Michael financially, but they worry for those who don't have a voice or someone to speak up for them.
"There are people out there who can’t articulate their needs or call their local members, or when they try they have people hang up on them because they’re so difficult to hear on the phone," Gary said.
"What happens to all of those people?".
Contact the author on Twitter @edengillespie