Older Australians need our support

What the report really highlighted was, that despite these benefits, there are barriers to accessing low vision aids in this country particularly for those most in need – the 100,000 older Australians with permanent vision loss and blindness.The major barrier is cost.For over a decade, responsibility for a funded equipment program of aids and technologies has been shuffled between state and federal governments; numerous portfolios in health, ageing and disabilities, and finally; falling between the gaps of aged care and disability reforms.{{quote-A:R-W:450-Q:The vast majority of Australians dealing with sight loss have great difficulty affording or accessing these aids. This needs to change.}}Fragmented services, inadequate referral pathways, and inadequate co-managent plans between eyecare practitioners and low vision services are other barriers to access, along with poor consumer information and knowledge regarding services.Lost amongst this tangle of bureaucracy, buck passing and ignorance, is the fact that low vision aids can transform the lives of people with sight loss. It might be as simple as a magnifier or specialised lighting, but it can help people lead fulfilling, independent lives.However, the vast majority of Australians dealing with sight loss have great difficulty affording or accessing these aids. This needs to change.So, while successive governments should be commended for subsidising registered sight saving drugs to avoid vision loss, unfortunately many older Australians who are vision impaired or blind are repeatedly missing out on the support they most need – low vision aids and technologies.The Foundation’s new report documents the value and effectiveness of low vision aids and technologies, the barriers to access, and the reasons why this issue must be placed firmly on the government agenda. Recommendations proposed in the report are financially achievable and the Foundation is already discussing with Ministers ways to provide older Australians locked out of the NDIS both the funding and the support they so desperately need.Initial cost estimates undertaken by the Foundation for a federally funded program indicated that the cost of implentation and evaluation could be as little at $30 million per year. This includes a suggested allowance of $667–2,400 per person per annum, depending on vision assessment.The report strongly recommends:

  • Investment in research to accurately quantify the impact low vision aids, technologies and services can have on quality of life and independence.
  • The establishment of a nationally funded, accessible, affordable and consistent low vision aids and equipment program to replace the current state/territory government programs.
  • That financial support for aids, donstrated to improve quality of life for people with functional vision loss, is established in private health insurance policies.

While we wait for our own government to prioritise low vision and blindness as a health priority, the World Health Organisation is presently establishing an international standard of services for low vision rehabilitation. We hope that this will provide an important benchmark for minimum services in Australia.In the meantime, Macular Disease Foundation Australia will continue its efforts to keep this issue on the government agenda – but we could always use help.As mbers, leaders and influencers of the eyecare sector, it’s up to all of us to ensure every Australian in need enjoys greater independence and quality of life afforded through access to low vision aids and technologies.SHIRLEY’S STORY“My vision rapidly deteriorated from AMD. I couldn’t read the newspaper anymore and I couldn’t even watch television because the rote control became too difficult to use. When I think about it now, I was depressed. The world seed to be closing in around me.”Shirley contacted the Foundation who was able to spend the time to discuss the low vision and community services available. The Foundation arranged for Shirley to subscribe to Vision Australia’s audio-book library services and also to access a large button TV rote control.“On the first day I had my audio-book player I listened to the Herald and then I started to listen to a book. I didn’t move all day! I cannot describe how this simple piece of technology that I can easily use has changed my life and my outlook on life. I just feel happier and more engaged with the world.”

Name: Julie HeraghtyQualifications: BA, DipEd, Assoc MAPSOrganisation: Macular Disease Foundation AustraliaPosition: CEOLocation: SydneyYears in the profession: 13 years as CEO of MDFA


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