F2L asked the newly appointed senior policy officer at ATSA, Tony Pooley, for his views on the challenges and opportunities facing the assistive technology (AT) sector.
The impact from COVID-19?
COVID-19 has demonstrated the enormous potential of AT. With the right support, people with disability can use technology devices to continue to engage with friends, family, health professionals and medical suppliers.
While our aim must always be to increase the personal community engagement of those with disabilities, COVID -19 has identified that communication can occur in a variety of formats and AT can support that continued communication particularly during these difficult times. While there have been fewer face-to-face meetings and an increased use of Zoom, Skype and telephone communication, plus the introduction of telehealth, many suppliers have expanded their service options to include personal delivery and pickup, express post and home repair visits.
How is the sector handling the crisis?
With considerable resilience built up over decades of supporting people with a need. The AT industry is all about giving people the opportunity to live the best life they can and though COVID-19 has in many ways impacted the manner in which that interaction occurs, suppliers have been very flexible and determined to minimise issues of concern.
Any more the government can do?
Everyone in the community, including those with disability has a stake in the success of our economy so any effort to support our financial structure is extremely valuable. However, many people with disability are dependent on government benefits. Disability pensions and the unemployment benefit need to be constantly reviewed to ensure they are targeted to the right people and are sufficient to allow a modest standard of living.
At a more specific level government has taken steps to temporarily increase the value of NDIS recipients plans so increased costs for supply of goods and services can be accommodated, and have also increased the flexibility of use of core supports, including those for AT.
If this health crisis provides the opportunity to rethink how we manage our economy and community then AT suppliers are keen to demonstrate to government and the broader community the extraordinary potential that AT can deliver in improving lives. The NDIS has dramatically improved access to AT to people with disability.
Pooley’s background in the disability sector includes senior advisor to four NSW Community and Disability Services ministers and most recently senior operations manager for NDS.
His most rewarding accomplishment was to be part of the conception and delivery of ‘Stronger Together 1 and 2’, a 10-year program that significantly expanded disability funding in NSW. The actuarial evidence base that underpinned that program was a forerunner in many ways to how the Productivity Commission engaged with the sector in developing the NDIS.
The role of ATSA in the future
I think AT has enormous potential to help people live better lives. If I can assist ATSA in some small way to make AT better known, better understood and better utilised then I believe the whole of society will benefit. And supporting our members to engage with government, regulatory bodies and other stakeholders to ensure the delivery of AT to those who need it is as simple, efficient and transparent as possible.