In July 2021, QAI was saddened to observe the closure of the Queensland Narrating Service (QNS). The QNS was a not-for-profit organisation based in Brisbane, Australia. It was established in 1967 to create audio books for people with print disabilities. It operated for fifty-four years until it was forced to close in June 2021 due to funding restructures that occurred as a result of the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Though it brings many benefits, the introduction of a market-based model for disability services has resulted in the forced closure of many organisations such as QNS. And for some people with disability, this has reduced rather than increased their access to essential disability supports.

What did QNS do?

One of the first projects undertaken by QNS was producing audio textbooks for students attending Narbethong School in 1968. Narbethong is a school for blind and vision impaired children located in Woolloongabba in Brisbane. QNS continued to work for decades to ensure people with a print disability had access to vital audio material that enhanced their ability to participate in the community. For example, providing transcriptions for instruction manuals for household items and dictations of pamphlets and periodicals on various subjects, such as gardening and marriage. Over the years it grappled with changes in audio technology, copyright laws and funding streams, whilst continuing to provide blind and vision-impaired people with independence and access to entertainment through the magic of books.

The NDIS and QNS

Up until 2021, QNS received recurrent funding from the Queensland government. However, the rollout of the NDIS in Queensland signalled the end of this arrangement. QNS needed to fulfill new requirements and start operating in an open market without government funding. QNS sought registration as a Translating and Interpreting NDIS service provider, in the hope that NDIS participants requiring print materials in an audio format would receive funding for QNS support in their plans. However, in December 2017, QNS was advised that its application had been rejected by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), who deemed the service provided by QNS to be “mainstream” rather than “language interpretation services”.

QNS pursued a review of this decision, however, was ultimately unsuccessful. The bureaucracy was insurmountable and QNS was subsequently excluded from the disability services sector. As a result, people with many disability types and people over the age of 65 have lost access to a local, free, easy to access and client-focused translation service, ironically reducing ‘choice and control’ despite this constituting a fundamental principle of the NDIS.

While NDIS participants can still access audio transcription services, there is only one provider and many rules, obstacles and limitations govern their service delivery. Moreover, people over the age of 65 and people who are ineligible for the NDIS can no longer access audio transcription services for free, instead having to privately fund or utilise scarce aged care funding to access this essential support.

The long-term success of QNS was due to the passion and dedication of its many volunteers and staff. To mark their closure in July 2021, QNS wrote a short book to document the history, achievements, contributions and legacy of the Queensland Narrating Service. To read more about their incredible work, click here