Thousands of deaf children to benefit from critical changes to NDIS

10 Apr 2019

Sydney, Australia – Tuesday 9 April 2019: World-leading updates to the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s (NDIS) eligibility and referral processes will change the lives of thousands of Australian children with hearing loss, with 50% of hearing impaired children currently missing out on crucial specialist early intervention services.

Following consultation with families affected by hearing loss and experts in the sector, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) have implemented a highly effective new approach to improve access to support via the NDIS. The key features established over the last 12 months include:

  • A nationally consistent eligibility criteria that ensures all young children with significant permanent hearing loss can access the NDIS. Previously, the eligibility criteria varied from state to state, and sometimes even by location.
  • An Australia-wide rapid referral pathway that makes it possible for children to receive an NDIS-funded plan within three weeks of the families’ first appointment with Australian Hearing. This is crucial as early intervention therapy must start by six months of age to prevent long-term language delay. Following the initial phase of the NDIS rollout, many children had to wait until 18 months of age before their services were funded. 
  • Appropriate level of initial ‘first plan’ funding that is sufficient for the specialist services children with hearing loss require. This will prevent the continued use of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ funding approach with the new system’s ability to offer tailored funding for each child’s individual needs.

Five-month-old Heath Hurrell, who was born with a mild-moderate hearing loss in both ears, has benefitted from the changes to the NDIS processes. The Hurrell family, from Copacabana in NSW, have been accessing The Shepherd Centre’s early intervention services via the scheme after the NDIS rapidly recognised their eligibility and processed a plan when Heath was just a few weeks old.

Mum Katharine Hurrell said the ease of access to the NDIS was incredibly helpful at time when the family was still processing Heath’s diagnosis.

“At a time when we were still shocked and confused by Heath’s hearing loss, the speed with which we were able to access an appropriate plan on the NDIS was a blessing. We didn’t really know how much we would need NDIS funding and I believe that without this, we would not be able to access The Shepherd Centre’s services and support, which have already been life changing for Heath and our family,” said Katharine.

These changes come at a critical time for the hearing loss sector, as research shows that one in every two Australian children who are deaf miss out on crucial early intervention services.1 Improved systems, procedures and funding via the NDIS will help close this gap to ensure every child can have a listening and spoken language future.

Dr Jim Hungerford, CEO of The Shepherd Centre, said the changes to the NDIS approach mark a new era in access for Australian children with hearing loss, and their families.

“We congratulate the NDIA for listening to the sector and families affected by hearing loss. By addressing these funding problems with the new approach, Aussie families like the Hurrell’s can now access the right support, at the right time,” said Dr Hungerford.

“These changes will enable more children than ever to reach their full potential. Early intervention is critical to giving children with hearing loss the very best chance in life. People deserve to have equal opportunities to make their dreams come true, regardless of disability,” he said.

The Shepherd Centre has an extraordinary track record of success when it comes to giving deaf children access to sound and speech. A First Voice study into the education, employment and social outcomes of hearing impaired children who receive early intervention revealed that around three in five (62%) of these children go on to achieve a tertiary level qualification. This compares to only two in five (43%) of the general population.2

Deafness is the most common disability among children in the western world. In Australia, the incidence rate rises from one in every 1,000 babies at birth to one in 300 children by school age (due to acquired and developing hearing loss), with 92% of these children born to two hearing parents.3

It costs almost $16,000 per year per child to provide these essential services. The Shepherd Centre relies on government support and fundraising to help the more than 500 families who turn to them each year and close the gap in access to these critical services. For more information, visit or call 1800 020 030.

To hear an interview with Kat Hurrell on her experience with the NDIS and The Shepherd Centre, visit:

If you would like more information on how The Shepherd Centre supports children with hearing loss through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, click here.


For more information, interviews or for media enquiries regarding contact:


Maya Ivanovic                                                            Christine Galasinao

Palin Communications                                                   Palin Communications

0403 354 305 / 02 9412 2255                                         0413 707 918 / 02 9412 2255

[email protected]                                                       [email protected]

en English