There are a number of services available to individuals living with a physical disability and their family and carers. The services discussed below can be used in circumstances where you seek to enforce or protect your legal rights as a result of your physical disability, or if you are seeking disability support.
The Disability Act 2006 (Vic) (“Disability Act”) came into full operation on 1 July 2007 and replaced the Disability Services Act 1991 (Vic) and the Intellectually Disabled Persons’ Services Act 1986 (Vic).
The Disability Act is the legislative basis for services to people with disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities, and provides for the funding of service providers or researchers in accordance with scheduled objects, principles, objectives and funding agreements. The provision of these services is administered by the Disability Services Division of the Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which is a component of the portfolio of the Minister for Community Services, the Minister for Mental Health and the Minister for Senior Victorians.
Under the Disability Act is the Victorian Disability Services Commissioner (“DS Commissioner”) whose role is to investigate and conciliate complaints about the delivery of services by a provider and to make recommendations to ensure the best quality disability services are provided. The DS Commissioner is independent of the government, the DHHS and Victorian disability service providers.
A complaint can be made in writing, in person, in electronic format, or over the phone, but it is best to make a written complaint whenever possible. The DS Commissioner may also consider complaints against a disability services provider that has not responded in an appropriate manner to a client’s initial complaint. In all cases, the DS Commissioner may decline to investigate complaints that are lacking in substance, are vexatious, have already been determined or are currently being considered by another body, or if the subject matter of the complaint relates to an incident that occurred more than 12 months before the complaint is made. The DS Commissioner may allow late complaints, provided the delay is not unreasonable and there is good reason for the delay.
The Disability Act also created the position of the Senior Practitioner, vested with extensive powers to set standards and guidelines, and monitor direct disability service providers in relation to the use of restrictive interventions and compulsory treatment.
Other Acts that relate to the provision of services to people with a disability are the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) (“EO Act”) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth).
The Victorian Aids and Equipment Program (A&EP) is administered by the Disability Services Division of the DHHS. The program helps people to live independently in the community by providing them with equipment, aids and home modifications.
To be eligible for the program, a person needs to:
• be a permanent resident of Victoria, or hold a permanent protection visa – resolution of status (subclass 851); or
• be an asylum seeker (may also be a protection visa applicant); and
• have a long-term (12 months or more) or permanent disability; and
• have a permanent or long-term disability and/or are frail age; and
• require aids and equipment or vehicle modifications from the aids availability list on a permanent or long-term basis.
The following people are not eligible:
• those who receive any form of compensation, or are able to claim the cost of the aid through a private health insurance provider;
• those who live in a nursing home or government-subsidised residential service; or
• those who receive aids and equipment through other government-funded programs.
However, people who are residents of Commonwealth Government-funded residential aged-care facilities are eligible for the Victorian A&EP Electronic Communication Device Scheme.
The A&EP provides:
• non-disposable continence aids (e.g. catheters);
• electrolarynxes and voice prostheses;
• electronic communication aids;
• environmental control units (i.e. electronic devices used to activate household appliances);
• equipment for personal use (e.g. shower chairs, home hoists and specialised beds);
• basic home modifications (e.g. grab rails and basic bathroom alterations to allow access);
• lymphedema compression garments;
• mobility aids (e.g. walking frames, gutter crutches, specialised walking aids, standing frames, wheelchairs);
• orthoses (e.g. ankle foot orthoses, braces and surgical shoes);
• domiciliary oxygen;
• pressure care equipment (e.g. mattresses and cushions);
• ramps (permanent and portable);
• wheelchairs (manual or electric);
The A&EP retains ownership of the equipment and lends it as long as it is needed, except for:
• home modifications, which become the property of the owner of the premises;
• vehicle modifications, which become the property of the owner of the vehicle;
• items for personal use (e.g. surgical shoes, corsets, callipers, wigs and mammary prostheses); or
• if you have put more than 50 per cent towards the cost of the item you can:
– own the item and be responsible for the cost of ongoing maintenance and repairs; or
– transfer ownership of the item to the A&EP, after which the costs of ongoing repairs (except tyres and tubes for wheelchairs) will be covered by the A&EP.
The program does not provide a refund if the person with a disability bought the equipment before or after applying for assistance.
Assessment by an appropriate health professional is required to determine the type of aid or equipment needed.
Application forms are available at A&EP issuing centres, which are located in metropolitan and regional Victoria. Most hospitals have an A&EP coordinator.
To find the nearest issuing centre, contact the A&EP (see “Contacts”).
The Victorian Government Department of Education and Training’s (DET) Program for Students with Disabilities provides additional support to mainstream state schools and to specialist schools to help them provide support for eligible students with moderate to severe disabilities.
To be eligible, a student must have a disability that:
• is a significant physical disability or significant health impairment requiring regular paramedical support; or
• is a significant visual impairment with corrected vision; or
• is a hearing impairment requiring intervention or assistance to communicate; or
• is a severe behavioural disorder requiring special support and treatment, with evidence of an expected ongoing problem; or
• is an intellectual disability with significant deficits in adaptive behaviour, with evidence of an expected ongoing problem; or
• is an autism spectrum disorder with significant deficits in language skills and adaptive behaviours; or
• is a severe language disorder with critical education needs.
Support is in the form of a funding allocation per eligible student, which forms part of the global budget for the school that the student attends.
The process for accessing the program is as follows: the school principal advises the parent or carer of the student with a disability about the program, establishes a student support group for the student, and sends the program application to DET. It is essential that the student’s disability is documented by reports from doctors, physiotherapists and other specialists.
More information about the Program for Students with Disabilities can be found on DET’s website (www.education.vic.gov.au). Or, you can contact the Association for Children with a Disability for information and advice (see “Contacts”).
The Australian Government Department of Education and Training also provides assistance to students with disabilities through the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Program. The most immediate contact person to access this program is the school principal. More details are available on the department’s website (www.education.gov.au).
VicRoads provides a state-wide Disabled Persons’ Parking Scheme, which is administered by local councils. There are two permit categories with varying parking concessions, based on the applicant’s need for assistance.
Category 1 permit holders are those with significant intellectual or ambulatory disabilities, who meet the eligibility criteria. They are entitled to park a vehicle:
• in a special bay reserved for people with a disability, for the specified time only; or
• in any ordinary area or bay for twice the specified time (upon payment of any initial parking fee).
To receive a category 1 permit:
• a medical practitioner must confirm that an individual has a significant ambulatory disability or nerve illness that affects their ability to walk; or
• a medical practitioner must confirm that an individual has either an acute or chronic illness and that minimal walking may endanger their health; or
• a specialist medical practitioner or clinical psychologist must confirm that an individual is an extreme danger to themselves and others in a public place without assistance by a carer.
To receive a category 2 permit, a medical practitioner must confirm that an individual has a significant ambulatory disability or a severe illness that does not affect their ability to walk; however, they require rest breaks when continuous walking is undertaken.
Temporary permits are issued to individuals whose ability to walk is significantly restricted on a temporary basis and is not likely to improve within six months. A further medical certificate must be presented for the permit to be renewed.
Application forms for parking permits are available from local councils. The application must be supported by a certificate from a medical practitioner. Permits are only issued to established residents of a municipality.
Where an application is refused, the council must give reasons for its decision in writing. The council must reconsider an application if a second opinion from another medical practitioner or clinical psychologist is provided.
The permit may be issued to a passenger with a disability, the driver or an organisation providing a transport service for people with disabilities. It may be temporary or permanent.
Individuals with a permanent disability are issued a permit for three years. At the end of this period, the local council informs the individual whether a new application is required to renew the permit.
Temporary permits are issued to individuals with a disability that is not likely to improve within six months. A medical certificate must be presented to renew the permit. Organisations receive a permit for 12 months.
A permit is automatically cancelled after the expiry date and may be cancelled at any time for wilful misuse or breach of the conditions of use. Penalties may be imposed for misuse of a permit.
The Australian Government’s Australian Disability Parking Scheme (ADPS) includes the five-year Australian disability parking permit, which is recognised nationally. The ADPS has established national minimum standards for parking concessions to help reduce barriers for permit holders when travelling interstate. (Note that valid Victorian disability parking permits are recognised in all Australian states and territories). VicRoads is working towards implementing the ADPS in Victoria.