The Future of Disability Support & How Providers Can Adapt

It’s no surprise that many NDIS providers are unsure about the future of disability support. COVID-19 remains a concern, while low-profit margins continue to put pressure on the industry.

As the December 2021 NDS State of the Disability Sector Report states: “Frustration. Pessimism. Confusion. Distress. Disability service providers have had a difficult year, and most don’t expect 2022 will be all that much better.”

Yet despite the uncertainty and pessimism, there are also plenty of positives on the horizon. The disability support industry is rapidly evolving to be more people-centric, empathetic and empowering. Providers who are willing to adapt also stand to benefit from these developments.

Read on as we explore the future of disability support and how providers can adapt to meet it.

Diversification of Services

NDIS plan utilisation has always been low, hovering around just 70%, as clients struggle to access all the services they need. Often, certain supports are just not available locally. Demand for services in areas such as mental health is also on the rise.

Meanwhile, as the NDS State of the Disability Sector Report made clear, one of the biggest challenges facing disability providers is low profitability. One in three providers either broke even or operated at a loss last year.

There are several short-term actions you can take to improve your company’s financial resilience. However, in the long term, service diversification will be key to better meeting clients’ needs while also improving profitability. By offering more in-demand services, you can maximise your per-client income while potentially also attracting new clients.

Disability support providers should focus on identifying the most appropriate options for diversifying their services along with efficient recruitment channels. Reviewing your cash flow and resolving any bottlenecks will also help improve your responsiveness, so that you can quickly hire the specialists you need.

Clients Will Be More Active in Their Support Plans

We’re already seeing a movement towards the more active involvement of people with disability in their support plans — and technology will continue to facilitate this.

Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021–2031 makes it clear that autonomy and inclusion in all areas, from adapted housing and employment to reducing institutional neglect, will be a key theme in the next decade.

Providers should focus on using technology to improve two-way communication channels. In particular, make sure clients have a way to assert their preferences, request services and provide feedback. 

Giving clients greater choice over the support they receive will also further empower them. Look for ways to offer clients more options in terms of the location, support workers, and date and time. Build some flexibility into your scheduling process to facilitate this.

Greater Involvement of Informal Support 

Acknowledging and supporting the role of informal support — i.e. friends, family members, partners and volunteers — is a priority policy in Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021–2031. According to the strategy, “In addition to providing practical and emotional support, those providing informal support can represent the interests and rights of the person they support.”

Friends and family members can play a vital role in supporting people with disability, and both clients and providers benefit from their involvement. Providers should look for ways to involve informal support networks as much as possible while respecting a client’s autonomy and consent. 

Ways to do this include creating different levels of secure access to client documentation, sharing regular updates and providing channels for loved ones to make requests on the client’s behalf.

Improved Support for People with Cognitive Disabilities

In the immediate future, we will see a focus on providing better support for people with cognitive disabilities and, in particular, investment in positive behaviour support (PBS)

In 2021, the Royal Commission found that psychotropic medication was regularly overprescribed to deal with “behaviours of concern” and recommended PBS as an alternative. However, there are still numerous operational issues with PBS. Wait lines are often long, and the program has to be appropriately designed for the client.

Providers who offer services to people with cognitive disabilities should make sure they can offer sufficient PBS-based support. This could be through investing in additional training for existing staff members, recruiting skilled behaviour support practitioners or partnering with external practitioners when there are high levels of demand.

Increased Focus on Intersectional and Trauma-Informed Support

In the immediate future, we can expect to see greater attention given to intersectional disability support and trauma-informed approaches. “Policies, processes and programs that provide better responses to people with disability who have experienced trauma” is a priority policy in Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021–2031. So too is “promot[ing] gender equality and prevent[ing] violence against groups at heightened risk”.

Providers should ensure their care plans and support packages are personalised to each client’s needs and lived experiences. It is important that clients’ boundaries are respected and consent is always sought. Additionally, training on the effects of trauma and inequality, as well as medical approaches to trauma, will be a good investment.

A Positive Future for the Disability Support Industry

The future of disability support brings both challenges and opportunities, from the need to boost profit margins to demands for a more people-centric and community-orientated approach. 

Overall, however, the future of disability support is a positive one. It is more empowering, intersectional and comprehensive. We will see more people with disability receive the support they need as their voices and experiences are listened to.

Here at ShiftCare, we believe that with the right tools, disability providers can provide better, more empathetic support while also improving their finances and reducing their workload. Our NDIS provider software will help you place clients’ personal goals and needs front and centre. Plus, it’s easy to keep loved ones involved with the ShiftCare Connect app. Find out more with a free trial.


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