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“Can I sell tea?” – Making the NDIS work

“Can I sell tea?” – Making the NDIS work

Marcus loves tea. He knows a lot about tea, and he wants to work in a tea shop. Marcus is a long-time friend of mine. He’s a social butterfly. He likes to travel a lot (tough times for him at the moment with COVID restrictions). He reorganises wallets.

Marcus has autism and he’s now one of over 120,000 NDIS participants with autism as a primary disability in the NDIS.

When I co-founded Provider Choice, a company helping families in the NDIS, in 2018, Marcus was front of mind.

Marcus doesn’t work in a tea shop, instead like many with disability he’s in supported employment on a miserly wage. He’s never had the support around him to get there.

How do we help him get a job in his local tea shop? 

I’m not going to lie, until the NDIS came along I actually didn’t think Marcus could work in a tea shop. I genuinely placed that barrier on him. Marcus would ask ‘Can I sell tea?’, but I couldn’t provide a straight answer, I didn’t want to say ‘no’ even though I thought it.

But in 2015, I became a consultant to the government agency that runs the NDIS. I spent two years looking at the experience of families going through the scheme and how a digital solution could help them. I travelled the country speaking to families in Townsville, Adelaide and Geelong. In doing this, I realised the potential of the NDIS for Australia’s disability community.

The principles of the scheme are powerful: Independence, equality, choice and control for people with disability. Those principles are worthy of being turned into a reality.

Fast forward to 2018, I had just started Provider Choice and I was excited, determined (and a little nervous) but I knew what I wanted Provider Choice to achieve. I had one question to answer: How do we open up the world to Marcus and help him achieve his dreams? And how do we do the same for anyone with a disability with goals and aspirations but where they are overwhelmed by a new complicated national scheme.

Two and a half years later, we’ve got a digital place to help Marcus and his family. And it’s not just about him, it’s about everyone. We’ve built a platform for over 400,000 Australians with disability in the NDIS.

So what can families do on Provider Choice’s platform?

  1. Prepare for the planning meeting. The first face-to-face (or phone) meeting with a Local Area Coordinator or NDIS planner is critical. What families say, and what they leave out matters a lot. Our free online tool helps families set their goals and the supports they need ahead of this meeting. For Marcus, a short-term goal could be to build the necessary skills that would help him find a job. You can check out our Preplanning Tool here.
  1. Understand the NDIS plan. NDIS plans are hard to understand, so we have a free online Plan Explainer that translates plans from all the bureaucratic terms into plain English. All families do is upload the plan. Our system scans and translates it for them. This means you can see what the funding for each of the categories in your plan can pay for. Marcus, for example, can now see immediately how much funding he has available for supports that strengthen his job-relevant skills. You can try our Plan Explainer here.
  1. Help with payments and budget tracking. Being in the NDIS comes with a lot of admin hassle. We offer plan management services to make this easier for you. We pay providers and keep track of budgets. Plus, you get your very own plan manager, who can offer expert NDIS guidance. You’ll need to have funding for plan management in your plan, but this is easy to ask for. Soon we’ll also be teaching self-management. You can see more about our Plan Management services here.
  1. Plan review preparation. We’re still by your side when it’s time to prepare for your plan review meeting, where you’ll discuss your future funding needs. We have a free online tool that guides you, step by step, through everything you need to know to get your next plan right. At the end, you receive a personal plan review preparation guide so you remember exactly what to say during the meeting. For Marcus, this means he can make sure his goals and supports meet his ongoing needs as he looks to progress with getting a job. You can check out our Plan Review Preparation Tool here.

We want to make the NDIS work for people like Marcus. Because Marcus’s disability shouldn’t prevent him from working in a tea shop. With the right goals, the right supports and the right skills he can get there if he wants.

Next time Marcus asks “Can I sell tea?”, I won’t give him a mealy-mouthed response. He needs to know that it’s possible, but that we back him to get there and will support him along the way. The NDIS has created the funding model for it, at Provider Choice we’re creating the digital pathway, and his direct supports are going to build his skills. Then we just need a tea shop owner to come to the table!

Jonathan Salgo

Cofounder, Provider Choice