Pubic, charities step in after teen's NDIS funding request knocked back

When the ABC last reported on 13-year-old Katinka Pettett in June, she had no walker.

Now, she has not one, but two.

The Newcastle teenager has Down syndrome and cannot walk unaided. But the NDIS knocked back her physiotherapist's application for a specialised walker last year, meaning she was confined to her wheelchair.

Four months ago, Katinka's physiotherapist Heather Richmond went public with her frustration and spoke to the ABC.

Audio 3:30 'Life-changing': Newcastle family celebrates generosity

13 yr-old-Katinka using a walker, which she needs for mobilityAM

Katinka's father Darren Pettett said after the story aired, several individuals and organisations contacted them offering to fund the $6,000 frame.

"It really is life-changing to hear how many people, how many generous individuals, offered to just pay … offered to just give money to a complete stranger," he said.

"That's life-changing, just knowing that those people exist."

Katinka's family accepted Variety the Children's Charity's offer to fund a walker.

The charity's chief executive in New South Wales, David Sexton, said the NDIS policy was to be applauded but there were implementation issues.

"There are teething issues, and we are certainly helping lots and lots of families at the moment, where for whatever reason they are either falling between the cracks or there's long delays," he said.

"For whatever reason, they need support and they're not getting it through the Government in some circumstances, and that's where Variety can step in."

NDIS backs down on funding rejection

Ms Richmond said a month after the story aired, the NDIS altered its initial decision and approved the application for a walker — despite the family saying they no longer needed the funding.


Despite high hopes for the NDIS at its rollout, Briana Blackett says the scheme has left her family feeling like "they're not worth" the help.

"Once the family had made [the NDIS] aware, and we'd said in the planning meeting, 'Well, we don't need that funding anymore because we've had Variety fund the walker', it then became available quite quickly in her plan," she said.

One of Katinka's new walkers lives at home, the other at school.

Her mother Mary said it allowed the teenager to participate in daily activities and be independent.

"Every parent wants that for their child," she said.

"She will be able to be on eye level with all her peers — that's something that we all take for granted, but it's something she's never been able to do."

NDIS planner made 'hurtful' comments

The experience has left physiotherapist Ms Richmond with concerns about how some NDIS planners are making their decisions.

"She [the NDIS planner] had googled Katinka's condition of Down syndrome, and said that she didn't believe there were many people with Down syndrome that were in wheelchairs, so she didn't know why she would need a walker.

"These comments were very hurtful to the family."

She said she had other clients who had been waiting for more than a year for their applications for assistive technology to be approved.

While there is widespread support in the disability community for the NDIS, there have been numerous cases of delays and poor decision-making processes.

Not long before Katinka's case was revealed, the National Disability Insurance Agency had to apologise to the family of Tasmanian man Tim Rubenach, who died while waiting for a specialised bed.

The National Disability Insurance Agency declined to comment specifically on Katinka's case, but a spokeswoman said most NDIS participants were very satisfied with their planners.

The agency acknowledged a small number of participants have not had an optimal experience, but said improvements were being rolled out this month to address the problems.

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