Australian Economy

NDIS funding isn’t just a one-way street – it helps participants secure work and give back to the economy

Wheelchairs can be expensive, and eight years ago when Janelle Armstrong needed a new one, her only option was to buy it second-hand off Gumtree.  

“It was a bit daunting, because they’re meant to be custom-made, I was worried that it wouldn’t meet my needs,” she said. 

“I’d always used a wheelchair since the age of ten to access the community and I can’t without one.”

I feel Ms Armstrong’s pain.

I have used a prosthetic leg since the age of two, my current one is over 15-years old.

Like wheelchairs, prosthetics need to be custom-made and cost a lot of money. 

A woman with a prosthetic leg and limb difference sitting down
Elizabeth Wright has had her current prosthetic leg for over a decade-and-a-half.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito.)

When you’re on a low or average income getting new mobility aids to access the community and live your life can seem impossible. 

Ms Armstrong, 41, lives with spina bifida, and is a swimming instructor. 

A Paralympic gold medallist from Atlanta in 1996, Ms Armstrong works up to five days a week teaching 4 to 7-year-olds to swim.    

She first applied for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) three years ago so she could get a new wheelchair. 

She was stunned when she was knocked back.

“I kind of found it a little bit funny that I was disabled enough to actually qualify for the Paralympics, but not disabled enough to qualify for any assistance on the NDIS,” she said. 

A woman giving a swimming lesson to a small child
Janelle Armstrong is now working as a swimming instructor in Sydney.(ABC News: Billy Cooper)

Being in the pool is something Ms Armstrong and I have in common – we were on the Australian Paralympic swim team at the same time. 

Swimming opened up opportunities for both of us, including the jobs we would do later in life.  

“I’m passionate about teaching children those life skills that they need in the water,” Ms Armstrong said. 

Like me, as she’s grown older, Ms Armstrong’s mobility has declined, impacting her ability to work and stay an active member of the community.

A woman sitting in a wheelchair infront of a trampoline in her backyard
Janelle Armstrong qualified for the Paralympics twice but a few years ago was told she wasn’t “disabled enough” for NDIS support.(ABC News: Billy Cooper)

Earlier this year, she applied for the NDIS again, with support from the spina bifida clinic at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney. 

This time she was successful. 

Soon, Ms Armstrong will receive a new, custom-made wheelchair thanks to her NDIS funding. 

“The longer I can stay mobile, the more I can work, the more I can be a contributing person in society,” she said. 

NDIS funding allows participants to give back

For Ms Armstrong, the NDIS has been “life changing” and she’s concerned the benefits of the scheme have been forgotten in recent discussion about its cost. 

“I’m a taxpayer too. I’ve worked. I always have. I always want to work,” she said. 

“This NDIS funding actually allows us to do that, which means that in turn we can give back to the community.” 

The NDIS was conceived to provide funding for people with the most profound and severe impairments to gain greater independence and improve their quality of life. 

That included helping those who wanted to work to get into the workforce, earn an income and pay tax. 

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