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photo shoes insole
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Alex in pink helmet on Cyclepower

Call for national low vision program

The Macular Disease Foundation of Australia is calling for the establishment of a nationally funded low vision aids and equipment program to replace current state/territory government schemes.

The call is one of three main recommendations put forward in the Foundation’s recent report - ‘Low Vision, quality of life and independence: A review of the evidence on aids and technologies’ - developed in collaboration with The George Institute for Global Health.

The report highlights the benefits of aids and technologies for those with vision loss and blindness in connecting and engaging with the world, maintaining independence and enhancing quality of life.

The report argues that cost is a major barrier to accessing low vision aids in Australia, and that, for over a decade, responsibility for a funded equipment program has been shuffled between state and federal governments and portfolios, finally falling between the gaps of aged care and disability reforms.

The chief executive officer of the Macular Disease Foundation Australia, Julie Heraghty, said low vision aids, ranging from a simple magnifier through to adaptive technology, can transform the lives of people with sight loss.

“Currently, the vast majority of people in Australia with sight loss have great difficulty affording or accessing these aids. This needs to change,” Ms Heraghty said.

“While successive governments are to be commended for subsidising registered sight-saving drugs to avoid vision loss, unfortunately many Australians who are vision impaired or blind, are repeatedly missing out on the support they most need – low vision aids and technologies.

“This new, Australian-first 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 on the government agenda.”

Other barriers identified in the report include highly fragmented services, inadequate referral pathways and co-management plans between eye care practitioners and low vision services, along with poor consumer information and knowledge regarding services.

Initial cost estimates of a federally funded program, presented by Macular Disease Foundation Australia, suggest a cost of $30 million per year with a suggested annual allowance of between $667 and $2,400 per person per annum, depending on vision assessment.

The report also recommends increased investment in research to quantify the impact that low vision aids, technologies and services can have on quality of life and independence, and that financial support for aids that improve quality of life is established in private health insurance policies. 





Best foot forward

An international team of researchers is on the look-out for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) to trial a new specially designed shoe insole aimed at improving mobility.

The University of Queensland study is seeking 176 people affected by MS to take part in a three-month trial of the insoles.

“Many people with MS experience problems with walking which can make day-to-day activities difficult and often leads to falls, so improving walking ability is of primary importance in maintaining health, independence, and quality of life,” lead researcher Dr Anna Hatton said.

“Evidence suggests that wearing textured shoe insoles, which are designed to stimulate receptors on the soles of the feet, may be one possible option to help improve gait.

“We now need people with MS to help us investigate whether the novel insoles influence the way the leg and trunk muscles work while walking on both even and uneven surfaces.”

The study will also look for changes in the perception of foot sensation and the awareness of foot position.

“Foot sensation plays an important role in keeping the body upright and balanced when walking, yet we know from previous studies that people with MS often have poor sensation on the soles of their feet,” Dr Hatton said.

“Therefore, wearing a specially designed shoe insole, which enhances sensory information at the feet, could help people affected by MS to walk better. “

To be eligible for the study, participants must be over 18 years of age, diagnosed with MS, able to walk 100 metres either independently or with a mobility aid, and have no other neurological conditions or cognitive impairments. 

Interested participants should contact Dr Anna Hatton on a.hatton1@uq.edu.au, ph: (07) 3365 4590.  





New uni course focuses on NDIS

The University of New England has introduced a Graduate Certificate in NDIS Business Development, with the next intake in June 2017.

Offered in an online study mode, and taking up to two year’s part-time to complete, the qualification aims to help workers in disability organisations navigate the legal and business frameworks of the NDIS to deliver client-focused services.

The Australian-first course has been developed in consultation with several New South Wales-based disability organisations to ensure it provides the skills and knowledge the sector requires.

The program aims to ensure students obtain a sound grasp of the legislative frameworks underpinning the NDIS, and develop professional skills in interpreting relevant legislation and understanding its application and impact on the disability sector. 

UNE said the course was suitable for existing managers, as well as those seeking to advance their careers in the disability sector. 




Federal government urged to act on stroke

The Stroke Foundation is calling on the Australian Government to take action on stroke to reduce the burden of the disease on the community.

Stroke Foundation chief executive officer Sharon McGowan said the government had an opportunity to vastly improve access to stroke treatment and support for survivors across Australia.

“Stroke causes terrible suffering and too many of the 470,000 survivors and carers living in our community are not getting the ongoing care and support they desperately need,” Ms McGowan said.

“We’ve heard from too many survivors that leaving the hospital is like falling into a black hole. Post-discharge follow up care and support is an area that desperately needs government investment.

“Almost half of all Australian stroke patients leave hospital without a plan for their ongoing recovery. A national follow up program would be a lifeline for stroke survivors and carers, helping them navigate the complex and often confusing community care system.”

Ms McGowan said modest government investment in improving access to stroke treatment and support – as outlined in the Foundation's 2017-18 pre-budget submission – would deliver significant impact. Stroke currently costs the Australian economy an estimated $5 billion each year, and this figure is predicted to rise due to Australia’s ageing population.

“Implementing best-practice clinical guidelines, expanding stroke telehealth networks and increasing public awareness will increase the number of Australians that can access treatment and make a good recovery after stroke,” Ms McGowan said.  

The Stroke Foundation 2017-18 pre-Budget submission is available at: strokefoundation.org.au





New name, same service

A unique South Australian charity that designs and builds equipment for people with disabilities has changed its name.

Established nearly 40 years ago, Technical Aid to the Disabled (SA) is now known as Technology for Ageing and Disability (SA) Inc, recognising an increase in projects for older South Australians and changes in terminology regarding disability. 

The organisation’s volunteers build devices for clients to help improve their quality of life. They also help clients enter or return to work, study, recreation and sport through the provision of equipment. 





Concerns over ADHD diagnosis

Curtin University researchers have established that the youngest children in West Australian classrooms are more likely than their older classmates to receive medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

The results raise concerns that age-related immaturity is being misdiagnosed as a psychiatric disorder. 

Dr Martin Whitely, Curtin University Adjunct Research Fellow and lead researcher, said the team compared the proportions of WA children born in the early and late months of a recommended school-year intake who received at least one prescription for an ADHD medication in 2013. 

“Among children aged 6-10, those born in June – the last month of a recommended school-year intake – were about twice as likely to have received ADHD medication than those born the previous July – the first month,” Dr Whitely said. 

Delayed school entry is much less common in WA than other states. The research team now want to conduct further research on the ADHD late birthdate effect in states that have greater flexibility for parents in deciding when their child starts school.

The results, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, are consistent with four large scale Northern Hemisphere studies.  





Queensland providers receive $75 million to help with NDIS roll-out

Five Queensland service providers will share in $75 million of funding to deliver Local Area Coordination (LAC) and Early Childhood Intervention (ECEI) services to support the roll-out of the NDIS in Queensland from 2017.

Carers Queensland Inc., Feros Care and Indigenous Wellbeing Centre have been announced as the successful LAC partners in Toowoomba, Ipswich, Mackay, Townsville and Bundaberg. LAC services focus on participant capacity building, including plan development, implementation
and review. 

EACH and BushKids have been announced as the successful ECEI partners in Ipswich and Bundaberg. UnitingCare Community will continue as the ECEI partner in Townsville and Charters Towers and will extend as the ECEI partner in Mackay and Toowoomba. ECEI services deliver outcomes for children and their families through best-practice and family-centred approaches.

Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Jane Prentice congratulated the successful grant recipients and recognised the importance their local expertise and experience would have in supporting people with disability in their community.

“These organisations have invaluable community connections and knowledge which is why they have been selected to work closely with the National Disability Insurance Agency in delivering this world-leading scheme,” she said.  




New quality framework for NDIS

A Quality and Safeguarding Framework for participants in the NDIS has been announced by the Council of Australian Governments Disability Reform Council.

Disability Ministers from the Commonwealth, State and Territories said the Framework will support the NDIS at full scheme. All governments are committed to ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place and that NDIS participants will be supported to choose high quality services. States and Territories will maintain their current quality and safeguarding arrangements until the new framework is implemented in their jurisdiction. 

The new system will be nationally consistent and establishes the responsibilities of providers and their staff. Key components include worker screening and reducing restrictive practices. The Commonwealth will also establish a national complaint and serious incidents system, and an NDIS Code of Conduct for providers
and their staff.  

A copy of the framework is available at dss.gov.au/ndisqualitysafeguards 




Ride for a cause

Cyclists of all abilities will ride side-by-side as they circumnavigate Bali, as part of the CyclePower 2017 event.

The ten-day ride, on June 2 to 12, aims to raise funds for Disability Sports and Recreation (DSR) – a Victorian organisation that helps people with disability access sporting activities.

DSR started CyclePower in 2011 as a community development and fundraising initiative, born from the belief that participation in sport and recreation is a basic human right. 

One of the ride’s most eager participants has been Alex, who first participated in 2013.

“I was inspired by my father to start, after he returned from his first CyclePower tour in 2012. It sounded like so much fun, and I had never been overseas before, so in 2013 I signed up and started training,” she said. “I love CyclePower, because it’s great to have a goal to aim for while you’re training. It gives you a focus and makes the hard days on the indoor trainer, or when you are riding into a headwind, all the more bearable.”

Alex, who has spina bifida, said she finds cycling a great way to push her body.

“The morning after, the muscle soreness is a nice reminder that I’ve worked hard and that my body is getting stronger,” she said.

“But the feeling I get when I’m riding overseas and meeting the people we’ve come all that way to help, makes it all worthwhile. Many of them haven’t had the same opportunities and experiences I have had, so I really want to show them that they can do whatever they want.

“In 2015, when CyclePower went to Laos, I played wheelchair basketball with members of the Laos Disabled People’s Association. It was lots of fun, and I discovered we had common interests, like just wanting to get out and have fun.”  

For more information on CyclePower 2017 contact Karla at Disability Sport and Recreation, karla@dsr.org.au, ph: (03) 9473 0133 or visit dsr.org.au/cyclepower