The Macular Disease Foundation Australia is calling for a federal funding to enable more people to access low vision aids and technology to improve their quality of life.
‘Low Vision, quality of life and independence: A review of the evidence on aids and technologies’ was produced by the Foundation, in collaboration with The George Institute for Global Health and released this week.
The report highlights the evidence base supporting the benefits of aids and technologies for those with vision loss and blindness in order to connect and engage with the world, maintain independence and enhance quality of life.
However, 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 vision loss and blindness. The major barrier is cost.
For over a decade, responsibility for a funded equipment program to ensure affordability of aids and technologies has been shuffled between state and federal governments, between numerous portfolios in health, ageing and disabilities, and finally falling between the gaps of aged care and disability reforms.
Barriers to access also include highly fragmented services, inadequate referral pathways and inadequate co-management plans between eye care practitioners and low vision services, along with poor consumer information and knowledge regarding services.
Julie Heraghty, CEO of Macular Disease Foundation Australia, the national body representing people with macular disease said most people with sight loss struggle to afford or access the available aids and it needs to change.
“Low vision aids ranging from a simple magnifier or specialised lighting, through to adaptive technology, can transform the lives of people with sight loss, helping them to live fulfilling, independent lives. Currently, the vast majority of people in Australia with sight loss have great difficulty affording or accessing these aids. This needs to change,” she said.
“While successive governments are to 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.”
“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. Recommendations proposed in this report are financially achievable and the Foundation will be urging the new Minister for Health to provide older Australians, who are locked out of the NDIS, the funding and a mechanism to be able to access the support they so desperately need and deserve,” Ms Heraghty.
Initial cost estimates of a federally funded program presented by Macular Disease Foundation Australia indicate that implementation and evaluation could be as little at $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 recommends:
1. Increased investment in research to accurately quantify the impact of low vision aids, technologies and services can have on quality of life and independence for people with low vision and blindness, particularly new technologies.
2. The establishment of a nationally funded, accessible, affordable and consistent low vision aids and equipment program to replace the current state/territory government programs.
3. Financial support for aids, demonstrated to improve quality of life for people with functional vision loss, is established in private health insurance policies.