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How Low-Cost Assistive Technology cuts plan costs

Brent explores how commonplace pieces of technology can dramatically increase a person’s independence and save thousands of dollars (no exaggeration!) in an NDIS plan.

By Brent Woolgar

Updated 15 Apr 20244 Oct 2022
Illustration - two people standing near an oversized wearable mobile app

In an NDIS environment where plan cuts are commonplace, low- and mid-cost assistive

technology (AT) is a secret weapon for saving money and increasing people’s independence. Done right: it’s a win-win-win scenario. And we’re not talking about small change either: the smart use of AT can reduce the need for (tens of) thousands of dollars’ worth of paid support.

In the NDIS, the potential of low- and mid-cost AT is under-utilised to everyone’s detriment.

Many providers, support coordinators, and people with disability often think of AT as complex pieces of equipment requiring long allied health reports, but in reality, commonplace items can have a dramatic impact on a person’s life.

What is low- and mid-cost AT?

There are 3 levels of AT: low, mid, and high cost. Each has its own associated rules and requirements.

Low-cost AT: under $1,500

Low-cost AT comes out of a person’s Core budget. These items do not require a quote or any written evidence supporting the purchase – unless the equipment is deemed high risk, in which case people need written advice from an AT advisor (learn more about low and high risk here).

Mid-cost AT: $1,500–$15,000

Mid-cost AT comes out of a person’s capital budget. These items do not require a quote, but people do need to get written advice from an AT advisor (learn more about AT advisors here).

High-cost AT: Over $15,000

High-cost AT comes out of a person’s capital budget. These items often require a quote and a recommendation from a professional AT assessor.

The NDIS has made changes over the past 6 months which have significantly streamlined the process for obtaining low- and mid-cost AT, making it an accessible solution for more people.

How low-cost AT can reduce reliance on support workers

Home automation devices have evolved dramatically in recent years, with a vast range of items readily available at everyday retail outlets. Items like lights, door locks, door openers, climate control appliances, and smoke detectors can be integrated into everyday platforms like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Home. This enables people to easily control their environment using their voice or devices they probably already own: smart phones, tablets, and watches. Other potential devices are lowering cupboard racks, adaptive appliances, bidets for toilets, body dryers, and many more.

Through these solutions, tasks that may have previously required paid support are automated, enabling people to be more independent.

Can it really save money?

Let’s look at some practical examples. As well as being a principal consultant at DSC, I’m the co-founder of OTShelf, a social enterprise which explores low-cost AT solutions that can reduce reliance on paid support workers. Since its inception, OTShelf has assisted a number of people around Australia to purchase and configure low-cost AT in their homes.

In one case, we managed to eliminate of a sleepover shift with 24/7 monitored smoke, gas and heat detectors, a Wi-Fi light system, and a bidet for the toilet. This saved more than $50,000 and allowed the person to have privacy at home for the first time in 4 years.

In another case, we supported a person in gaining automated access to their home through Wi-Fi enabled door locks that work based on proximity, a Wi-Fi light system with movement sensors, and a voice-controlled TV. This meant that the person no longer needed to have a support worker present when returning home in the afternoons. Through these small changes, we were able to eliminate a 3 hour shift, 4 days a week, which equals around $23,000 in savings.

Sometimes, the benefit of low-cost AT is not just a reduction in paid support but an enhancement of a person’s daily quality of life. For example, we are seeing some really great outcomes for people with psychosocial disability through the use of smart watches to set reminders for things like personal care, daily tasks, and exercise.

Can it work for everyone?

I have yet to meet a person who cannot benefit from low-cost AT. There are new devices being released literally every week, meaning it is possible to find an AT solution for nearly any desired outcome. The trick is knowing where to look and how to automate.

Once you get your head around it, AT is not as complex and intimidating as you might think (or at least no more complex and intimidating than anything else in the NDIS). With plans shrinking and the workforce crisis growing, it’s definitely a solution that all providers and people with disability should consider.

If you are interested in learning more about OTShelf’s services, check out our website or contact me at [email protected].

DSC has a series of webinars on AT fundamentals that you can learn more about here.

Authors

Brent Woolgar

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