How Accredited Exercise Scientists can get involved within the disability sector

The expansion and roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) since 2016 has enhanced the opportunities available both for people living with disabilities and for the service providers who function within the scheme. Overseeing the NDIS is the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). The NDIA is an independent statutory agency that makes decisions about participant eligibility and plans, pricing and provider payments. The Health Care and Social Assistance (HCSA) industry has undergone significant growth as a result of the implementation of the NDIS and the net worth of the disability sector has grown significantly to $21bn per annum (ABS, 2019). This has led to a huge increase in the number of providers in the marketplace along with increased opportunities for professionals such as Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs) and Accredited Exercise Scientists (AES).

Mark Liberatore, an AEP from Cerebral Palsy Australia shares his thoughts on the growth of the NDIS and how an AES can get involved in the disability sector and what outcomes they can help their NDIS participants achieve.

What has been the biggest change in the delivery of exercise for people with a disability since you began working in the sector? 

There has been a huge surge in demand for AEP services over the past five years and subsequently increased demand for support from our exercise science team. When the scheme was first trialled in regional parts of NSW and the ACT and then implemented in metropolitan NSW in 2016, the majority of NDIS plans funded to include support around exercise focused on capacity building outcomes and specifically how AEPs could support participants to achieve functional goals related to activities of daily living. For example, a typical NDIS goal would be for the participant to increase muscular strength and endurance to enable an independent transfer from a wheelchair to walker. There is still a big need for AEPs to continue to support clients to achieve these goals and the role of the AEP has since been recognised.

In the past couple of years there has also been increased acknowledgment from the agency and more specifically NDIA planners around participant goals related to sports and recreation. This change has led to an increase in demand for services run by professionals like an AES and goals related to participation in community sport and elite sport outcomes. The focus has progressed from simply allowing the clients to improve their standard of living to allowing them to thrive socially, as they now have another outlet.

What has led to the increase in demand in support for an AES in the scheme?

Firstly, there has been significant growth in disability sport and recreation options in both the community and at an elite level, which has had a positive impact on referrals. There are a range of providers in the sector as well as from mainstream services who are providing community sports and recreation opportunities to people living with disabilities. This increase in supply was based on a surge in demand for these supports in their NDIS plans under social and community participation funding categories. This rise in participation has led to an increased number of participants looking to engage in sport at a community and elite level. The pathway to elite sport and community-based competition provides opportunities for exercise and sports scientists by way of the need to develop strength and conditioning aspects related to performance. The unique challenges of disability sport provide an outstanding opportunity for growth in both the client and practitioner as they both need to think outside the box to get the most out of the experience.

How does an AES function within the NDIS?

An AES can support NDIS participants to achieve capacity building goals which align to support categories in the NDIS price guide (category 9, category 12 and category 15). When working as a sole trader or within multidisciplinary teams, an AES can assist participants looking to enhance their fitness, social and community participation outcomes through active participation in sport and recreation. Some examples of NDIS participant goals serviced by the AES profession include:

  • To enhance physical fitness and sports specific skills which will allow participant A to compete at her school swimming carnival.
  • I would like to increase my endurance and stamina to better engage in my social basketball game on the weekend.
  • To increase participant X’s social and community participation outcomes.
  • Participant X would like to increase her strength and fitness to trial participation in wheelchair sports programs in the future.

The progress of services within the sector to include these funding supports has aligned with the vast amounts of research highlighting the essential role participation in sport and recreation plays in empowering people with a disability. The NDIS provides exercise professionals with many rewarding opportunities to collaborate across disciplines while ensuring that clients not only overcome their challenges but forge a strong sense of self in the process.


Useful Links

How to register as an NDIS Provider

More information on the NDIS.

Understanding the price guide and funding supports