The new Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott, has joined calls for people with disability to be given free rapid antigen tests, arguing it would help them take part in society as the country opens up.
Alcott, a tennis champion and the first person with a visible disability to be awarded the gong, also used his acceptance speech on Tuesday night to emphasise the importance of fully funding the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS).
After Guardian Australia reported many people with disability were receiving no federal support for rapid tests, the Morrison government this week announced it would allow NDIS participants to dip into their core funding to buy the devices.
But the decision was met with a mixed response because, although participants would no longer be out of pocket, they would be required to use funding otherwise allocated for support.
On Wednesday, Alcott expanded on his call for free tests for people with disability in an interview on ABC Radio National.
â€œWeâ€™re always talking [to] people with multiple disabilities about what they need,â€ he said of his consulting firm, which hires people with disability. â€œEspecially for people who are immunocompromised and vulnerable at the moment â€“ first of all how good that Australia is opening up â€“ but when you go to think about it, itâ€™s actually quite scary.
â€œBecause they are worried that if they do get Covid theyâ€™re going to be in trouble. If somebody needs a free daily rapid test for them and their family and their carers so they can feel confident to get out and live their life, weâ€™ve got to give them that. Straight away.â€
The governmentâ€™s announcement to allow NDIS participants to dip into their funding was â€œcautiouslyâ€ welcomed by the peak body, People With Disability Australia. But it added it was â€œconcerned that the government is requiring NDIS participants to source their own Rats and to spend their core fundingâ€.
â€œThis funding is already allocated to pay for reasonable and necessary disability supports,â€ People With Disability Australia said. â€œRats should be free for all people with disability.â€
Labor has called for free rapid tests for all under the Medicare system, but the government has rejected the idea. Instead, it has created a scheme that allows concession card holders to obtain 10 free tests over three months from pharmacies. About 18% of NDIS participants are ineligible for the scheme.
Last week, Guardian Australia revealed that while NDIS participants living in group homes and their providers could claim the cost of Rats, those residing in their own homes could not.
Among them is Carolyn Campbell-McLean, who has a form of muscular dystrophy that means she is unable to cough or blow her nose by herself. She told Guardian Australia she had already spent $1,300 on rapid tests for her support workers.
Under the governmentâ€™s new policy, she will now be able to claim back that money, which will be subtracted from her â€œcore fundingâ€.
Another man, Max Burt, who had spent about $1,000 on rapid tests for his support workers, noted access was still an issue. Some people with disability were unable to shop around at pharmacies to find one with tests in stock.
Alcott also called on the government to â€œguaranteeâ€ the NDIS would be fully funded. While the Morrison government has pledged to do so, it has also increasingly raised concerns about the cost of the scheme, and was last year forced to ditch reforms advocates believed were aimed at cost-cutting.
â€œIâ€™ve been talking about the NDIS with the government for years,â€ Alcott said. â€œIt is fully funded, but itâ€™s got to be guaranteed, forever. Without the NDIS so many people with disability canâ€™t be the people they want to be.
â€œThey canâ€™t get the care they need, first and foremost, get the resources they need, the equipment they need to get out there and start living their life. To get out and get a job, to get out and so their families can stop caring for them and they can go out and get a job.â€
Alcott noted only about 500,000 of the 4.5 million people in Australia with a disability were on the NDIS. â€œThey need support too, so they can be the people they want to be,â€ he said.