What is independent information – and how does IDEAS fit in?

Currently, there are four million Australians with disability – as well as elderly people, carers and families – who face huge challenges and barriers in day-to-day life. In many areas of Australia, people with disability may not have easy access to the services they need. Further, they may not have the means of comparing providers to decide which service would work best for them.

That’s where independent information comes in. Independent information refers to unbiased and accurate information that’s free from third-party interest. It ensures that people with disability have the opportunity to ask questions, make informed decisions and choose their own path in life.

The kinds of questions we answer at IDEAS (Information on Disability Education & Awareness) cover everything from accessible travel to carer support to local healthcare services. In 2016 alone, IDEAS answered 903,464 information requests via phone, live chat, in person and digitally about some of these issues.

People with disability are just like everyone else. Yet most have to negotiate barriers and navigate information and complex systems to make sure they get a good life. To choose a holiday, a course to study, a vocation or job, or to volunteer, people with disability require information and awareness of what is possible.

Since IDEAS was founded in 1983, we have helped more than 6.7 million people to access the information, support and advocacy they need. Digital information services are incredibly popular for many users of the IDEAS service, including live chat via the website. The call centre where the phone is answered by humans who answer the enquiry directly ensures our independent information is customised to the individual.

In the words of Jenny Stanzel, Founder of IDEAS:

“Information gives people with disability a look at the bigger picture to see what’s possible for them. For example, a lot of people don’t know the full availability of equipment that would suit them. Without independent information, people find it difficult to understand where to research services and equipment that can make it easier to use technology, source wheelchairs at airports, travel in taxis and so on.”

The implications of the NDIS rollout for independent information providers

We are strategically placed in the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to assist people, as knowledge brokers who can offer accurate information about accommodation, leisure interests, accessible travel, education, and so on. Like anyone else seeking information about life choices, people with disability have a right to acquire independent information away from the vendor of the service so their human rights can be protected.

Imagine you live in Inverell, and have a child with autism and you want your child to attend an out-of-hours school service so that you can go back to work. You also want your child to have opportunities to socialise and do activities outside school. IDEAS will try and find the support you need to enable your child to attend the out-of-hours school service.

Independent information contributes to more inclusive, aware and educated communities. The power of people asking questions for themselves is one of the aspects that will drive the success of the NDIS. We await the outcome of competitive grant rounds in the Information Linkages and Capacity Building component of the NDIS (from federal funding), to better connect people with disability, their families, carers and supporters to the accurate information they need to lead independent lives.

The NSW government has announced the axing of state financial support to IDEAS from July 2018. However, we remain optimistic that the NDIS will be scaffolded with access to independent information services to promote life choices for people with disability. The NDIS needs to have multiple points of distribution – and IDEAS is technologically equipped and customer-ready for the task.