The Victorian Aids and Equipment Program aims to provide by elizabethberkley


									The Victorian Aids and Equipment Program’s Electronic Communication Devices

Scheme- A Snapshot of School Aged Funding

Angela Klaniscek

The Victorian Aids and Equipment Program aims to provide people with permanent or long

term disabilities with subsidised aids, equipment and home modifications to enhance their

safety and independence, reduce their reliance on carers and prevent premature

admission to institutional care or high cost services. Currently, there is a network of 31

issuing centres across the state servicing local government catchments areas.

The A&EP Scheme is a subsidy program providing a wide range of equipment. Any

permanent resident of Victoria who holds a medicare card and who does not qualify for

funding from other bodies eg TAC, DVA, Workcare, is eligible to apply.

The process for application is two fold. A relevant health professional must assess the

client in relation to their specific need. A report and recommendation for particular

equipment is then written. Accompanying this report must be a completed Aids and

Equipment Application form which provides detailed information in relation to the client.

This two-part application is then submitted to the relevant issuing centre.

The A&EP Electronic Communication Devices Scheme is a specialised statewide service

providing communication devices, mounting systems and related peripherals eg switches

There is a wide range of equipment which can be provided. The aim is to provide devices

which enable functional speech output for people who have no speech or highly

unintelligible speech. Switches to activate a device and systems, which mount the device,

are also available.
ARATA Paper- A Klaniseck                                                                     1
A Speech Pathologist from the community or from specialised services eg ComTEC,

DEAL Communication Centre, SCOPE must provide the assessment and write the report

and recommendation for the equipment which meets the needs of the client. An

Occupational Therapist would provide input in relation to switches and mounting systems.

The A &EP ECD Scheme has been operating in Victoria since 1990 and is auspiced by the

Yooralla Society of Victoria. It is currently based at Brooklyn. It provides training and

support to the hundreds of therapists, families, carers, schools and clients who apply to the

program each year.

In May 2002, government funding was provided to support school aged students in with

electronic communication devices. Since this time, over 600 devices have been provided

to students who attend both mainstream schools and specialised settings

across Victoria.

As part of ongoing statistical analysis, figures have been kept relating to the provision of

this equipment. We have been interested to track the type of devices which are requested;

the referring agents; the representation from areas across the state and the range of


Current graphs display trends in each of these areas. Basic information can be gleaned

from these graphs. Some generalisations can be made and have proved to be as

expected eg types of disabilities represented. Other areas exhibited changing trends eg

types of devices requested, reflecting developments in technology.

ARATA Paper- A Klaniseck                                                                       2
We are also able to reflect on some of the practical implications of the issuing of devices

specifically in relation to reliability and durability. These issues are particularly important for

clients who have high usage or who are heavy users.

We strongly recommend that a well developed low tech back up system eg multilevel

communication book, be developed for the client, as devices will need repair/maintenance.

Summary of statistics related to the provision of devices for school aged students


Many referring speech pathologists come from specialised settings.

1. ComTEC, a service of Yooralla Society, provides simple and practical solutions for

     people who require support to communicate. ComTEC has provided 30% of all

     applications for the school aged group. The ComTEC team consists of speech

     pathologists, occupational therapists and an IT officer all with expertise in

     communication and technology. This is a statewide service and provides on site

     advisory sessions at local centres; school and clients’ homes as well as the ComTEC

     centre based appointments at Brooklyn in Melbourne’s west or at the Nerve Centre in

     Blackburn in Melbourne’s east.

2. SCOPE (formerly know at the Spastic Society of Victoria) Many SCOPE centres based

     in metropolitan and regional areas of Victoria provide support to clients who reside in

     country areas. SCOPE provides a wide range of services to people with disabilities.

     Speech Pathologists and Occupational Therapists support clients in the application

     process and the implementation of equipment and devices in their own settings. 5% of

     referrals have come from SCOPE therapists.

3. DEAL Communication Centre: DEAL is a statewide service which provides speech

     pathology and occupational therapy services and support to people of any age with

ARATA Paper- A Klaniseck                                                                         3
     complex communication needs. DEAL provides the assessments, reports and

     recommendations and training in the implementation of the device and equipment

     provided by the Scheme. 10% of referrals have originated from DEAL.

4. SCHOOLS. Over 43% of the applications for the Scheme has come from school based

     therapists. These therapists range from permanent staff therapists based at schools in

     specialised settings eg autistic schools, special developmental schools. These locally

     based therapists again provide assessments and can support the functional

     implementation of the device across a variety of settings: school, home, leisure.

5. The remaining referrals have come from a mix of private therapists, who have written

     10% of the reports for devices, DHS, DET, CEO and community therapists.


Statistics based on regions are subject to several variables. Many country or rural

applications have been applied for via the specialised services eg ComTEC, DEAL,

SCOPE who provide a statewide service. It has also been found that there have been

large numbers of applications from specialised settings where communication devices

have suited the client group eg Yooralla Glenroy, St Paul’s School, autistic schools.

There is impact of the population spread across the state with the fewer numbers of

students in rural areas being reflected in the numbers of applications. This is also relevant

in relation to the number of schools in these regions – both mainstream and special


Other factors include the number of speech pathologists available to provide assessments

and reports; the level of knowledge of and expertise in devices; accessibility to specialised

services/settings and finally, familiarity with the Scheme.

Three extensive mailouts were sent to relevant stakeholders informing them of the

Scheme. Stakeholders included Speech Pathologists; Principals and Assistant Principals;

ARATA Paper- A Klaniseck                                                                        4
Regional Integration Coordinators; organisations and groups such as the Association for

Children with a Disability.


As expected, the range of issues has been spread across single message devices eg

Bigmacks, Step by Step Communicators; multi message and multi level devices; dynamic

devices and text to speech. This spread of devices reflects the range of needs and abilities

of the students. The program also enables devices to be returned if the students' needs

change and other devices to be provided to meet the child’s changing ability/growth/skills


Mirroring general population statistics, the Scheme has provided 65% of devices to

primary school aged students from 5 to12 years of age, 30% to secondary school students

and 5% to the 18+ group.


The range of disabilities falls into 7 main groups. Cerebral Palsy is the predominant

diagnosis with 35% of students receiving devices and this is reflected in the adult

population who receives devices from the Scheme. Autism makes up 25% of the


The remaining major categories are Developmental Delay; Down Syndrome; Speech and

Language disabilities.


As the Scheme provides routine repair and maintenance of devices provided, it has been

of interest to track this facet of the program. It has been noticed that some devices seem

more prone to damage and constant repairs due to the nature of the device itself eg

ARATA Paper- A Klaniseck                                                                     5
devices with dynamic screens and the type of client receiving the device. ‘Heavy’ users

who put physical demands on the device do have more instances of repair needs.

Hardy devices should be considered with some disability types especially in relation to

potential repairs due to unintentional damage. Most repairs are related to cracked,

smashed or broken dynamic screens; damaged or broken leads and cables; damage to

ports and sockets due to incorrect plugging in of switches etc or other damage incurred

through dropping or inappropriate use of devices. The implication of the support team also

has an impact of repairs. Clients with a constant support person or team have less overall

repairs than those with a constantly changing carer/carers/team. Intimate knowledge of the

device, troubleshooting techniques and the appropriate functional usage of the device also

results in fewer repairs being needed to carried out. As discussed previously, the

importance of a effective low tech system is crucial as devices do need to be repaired and

the client must have this alternative in situations where the device is away for routine

maintenance and for repairs that may occur.


Toby is a 12 year old student with cerebral palsy. Toby attends a mainstream primary

school. Toby’s family had heard of the program from the Association of Children with a

Disability’s newsletter.

After initial contact with the Assistant Principal at the school, the family rang ComTEC to

provide an advisory session in order to recommend a suitable communication device. An

appointment was set and the ComTEC team, including a speech pathologist and

occupational therapist provided a two hour advisory session, which covered a wide range

of issues for Toby and his team. Present at this session was Toby’s mother, the integration

teacher from the local school and the DET speech pathologist. This speech pathologist

ARATA Paper- A Klaniseck                                                                      6
worked across 12 schools and had minimal time allowance for Toby’s school but was keen

to attend the session and provide some support at the school level. The session was held

at Toby’s school.

After the advisory session, an application was sent to the AEP ECD Scheme office for a

communication builder. The AEP Speech Pathologist screened the application to ensure

that the eligibility criteria were met and approval was given. An order was then placed with

the relevant supplier.

This supplier is extremely efficient in the service provided to our program. Most orders are

delivered well within a week as they have tracked our order rate and always have stock on

their shelves to meet the common requests. The device was processed at the A&EP office

the same day as it was received and the Speech Pathologist and Integration teacher was

notified by phone. This is a standard practice of the program. At this notification, a mutually

convenient training time was organised when the AEP Speech Pathologist who supports

the program, would provide training in the use of the device. The training tries to

encourage as many of those involved in Toby’s life to attend eg family, school, Speech

Pathologist at the local level. Toby’s mother and the integration teacher and aide were

present at the two hour training session organised at the school. This training covered both

basic operational and familiarisation with the device and ideas for its practical

implementation. This training also covered the making of several overlays using

Boardmaker. A training report was completed and filed in Toby’s file and Toby’s mother

also signed a Loan Agreement form. This form covered information about the issue of the

device and the procedure if there are any problems with it in the future. Further training

would be available from ComTEC if necessary. ComTEC will conduct a follow up review

as part of their procedures and another review from the AEP Speech Pathologist will occur

after 12 months. These reviews are to find out if the device is meeting the needs of the

ARATA Paper- A Klaniseck                                                                       7
student and also if there are any problems with its implementation or in the actual device


Toby’s team is very happy with the device and it is being used across several settings ie at

school, home and when Toby goes to grandparents in everyday situations.

ARATA Paper- A Klaniseck                                                                     8

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