On 7 September 2020, NDIA announced a new functional capacity assessment process that will be active in due time. This is one of the many major changes announced this year by NDIA that will have an impact on how thousands of Australians with disability access the NDIS.
Functional capacity assessment measures the individual’s ability, to know how well one gets involved in life situations executing daily tasks or actions with and without assistance. Functional assessment reports along with other supplementary evidence relating to person’s disability is an important piece of document in determining the eligibility of a person with a disability for the NDIS scheme funding.
Why this new independent assessment pathway?
NDIA believes that current assessment practices are inconsistent and containing flaws due to a number of factors including unavailability of a single, generic multi-purpose assessment tool that is fit for specific NDIS purpose, other human errors and cost factors associated in getting the assessments done.
The new assessment methodology is aimed to make the assessments more balanced, and making access to the NDIS fair and more equitable for all who are genuinely in need and are left out due to reasons including their financial incapacity to be able to obtain paid assessments for the scheme entry. It is said that the new functional assessment will be completely free. As per NDIA making these assessments free will save approximately $130 to $170 million a year in cost for people with disabilities trying to access the scheme, which is quite promising.
International Capacity Framework (ICF) – a fundamental to future assessment tool
A Functional capacity framework was published by NDIA, explaining the why, what and how for the proposed change. The framework document specifically and very concretely described that fundamental to this new change is the development of a new more standardised assessment tool which fits the NDIS purpose. According to NDIA, several tools were trialled since the start of the scheme, and were made redundant, as none completely met the purpose of the scheme. The diagnosis-based tools used currently are not wrong however a more adequate, standardised and a mix of assessment methods can be a possible solution.
As NDIA is still expecting to develop this new tool and research for a perfect tool may be underway, NDIA and researchers believe that to formulate an explicit and measurable definition of functional capacity for the NDIS context, International classification of Disability framework (ICF) is most suitable and hence is a fundamental for the formation of this heavenly tool.
Besides just bringing in the adequate tools, huge emphasis was also placed by NDIA on selecting independent assessors having required qualifications, training and clinical experience to bring standardisation across the board.
Critics – Disability Advocates and other sources
The change proposed is not very positively taken by many disability advocates and provider groups. The main concerns are around the selection of independent assessors itself, as there is a perceived risk of these assessors being completely alien to the participant’s needs and a likelihood of basing the functional assessment from the guidance obtained out of a mere tool. This perception is totally contradictory to the NDIA’s viewpoint, as NDIA is actually aiming to eradicate the sympathy bias (may be existing) between a practitioner having known the participant and hence a potential factor believed to have incorrectly influencing assessment outcomes.