What is Functional Capacity in an NDIS application? | MyCareSpace

What is Functional Capacity in the NDIS?

A single gold key in a sea of black keys sitting next to a gold padlock

So what is Functional Capacity?

"I have a permanent disability but my NDIS application was rejected because of my functional capacity"

This is something we hear often at MyCareSpace.

Before we explain what functional capacity means in the NDIS arena, let's take a step back and look at the eligibility requirements of the NDIS.

In order to be eligible for NDIS funding, a prospective participant must have ALL of the following:

  1. a disability that may be (or a combination of) intellectual, cognitive, neurological, sensory or physical or attributable to a psychosocial condition,

  2. impairment/s that are, or are likely to be permanent,

  3. impairment/s that result in substantially reduced functional capacity to undertake one or more of the following relevant activities:

    1. communication
    2. social interaction
    3. learning
    4. mobility
    5. self-care or
    6. self-management
  4. impairment/s affect their capacity for social or economic participation AND

  5. is likely to require support under the NDIS for their lifetime (e.g their disability is not curable)

So what does "substantially reduced functional capacity" mean?

A person with a disability has 'reduced functional capacity' when they can't:

  1. Take part in activities or tasks without assistive technology, equipment (other than commonly used items) or home modifications OR
  2. Participate in an activity or tasks without the assistance of another person OR
  3. Participate in an activity or task even with assistive technology, equipment, home modifications or assistance from another person.

The NDIA must be satisfied that ther person with a disability has substantially reduced functional capacity to undertake one or more of the following activities :

  • Communication: includes being understood in spoken, written or sign language, understanding others and expressing needs and wants by gesture, speech or context appropriate to age;
  • Social interaction: includes making and keeping friends (or playing with other children), interacting with the community, behaving within limits accepted by others, coping with feelings and emotions in a social context;
  • Learning: includes understanding and remembering information, learning new things, practicing and using new skills;
  • Mobility: this means the ability of a person to move around the home (crawling/walking) to undertake ordinary activities of daily living, getting in and out of bed or a chair, leaving the home, moving about in the community and performing other tasks requiring the use of limbs;
  • Self-care: means activities related to personal case, hygiene, grooming and feeding oneself, including showering, bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, grooming, caring for own health care needs; or
  • Self-management: means the cognitive capacity to organise one's life, to plan and make decisions, and to take responsibility for oneself, including completing daily tasks, making decisions, problem-solving and managing finances.

In a nutshell, access to the NDIS is based on a functional, practical assessment of what a person can and cannot do across just one of these areas.

Important clarifications:

  • On its own, reliance on commonly used Assistive Technology items will not result in a substantially reduced functional capacity
    Commonly used items include glasses, walking sticks, non-slip bath mats, bathroom grab rails, stair rails, age-appropriate child safety locks, simple adapted kitchen utensils and dressing aids. 
  • If a person requires assistance from others to participate or perform tasks, the NDIA will first consider whether a person's need for assistance is consistent with the normal expectations of a person that age. For example, children under the age of 2 will not necessarily have a substantially reduced functional capacity because they need assistance to provide for self-care needs.
  • A person will be considered to be unable to participate effectively or completely in an activity if they cannot safely complete one or more of the tasks required to participate in an acceptable period of time. Undertaking a task more slowly or differently to others will not necessarily mean a person cannot participate effectively or completely in an activity.
  • When considering whether a fluctuating or episodic impairment results in substantially reduced functional capacity to undertake relevant activities, the NDIA will consider the impact on the person's ability to function in the periods between acute episodes.

How does the NDIS assess your Functional Capacity?

Which area of your life the NDIA will need to consider will depend on the circumstances and the evidence you present in your application.

For example, if you have an impairment that results in a substantially reduced functional capacity to undertake mobility, but otherwise has full cognitive capacity, it may not be necessary for the NDIA to assess your ability to undertake daily activities related to cognition.

The NDIS will rely on the reports you provide when applying. There are a number of allied health professionals who can asses your functional capacity across each of the 6 areas of consideration. 


Do  I need to get a Functional Capacity Assessment to apply for the NDIS?

This depends on the type of impairment a potential participant has. It is not a requirement to have an FCA for an NDIS application, but it does help if you need evidence to prove 'substantially reduced functional capacity' in one of your life areas.

Find out more: What is an NDIS Functional Capacity Assessment


Reports for NDIS Applications

To write effective supporting documentation for people with disabilities and complex support needs seeking NDIS access, health practitioners or therapists need to get the words right. By 'right' we mean in the format/language the NDIA understands. Different systems often use different terminology and come with their own jargon. Knowing how to convey the right information, in the right words, from the health system to the NDIS, is essential to achieve the desired outcome for NDIS participants

A person with a disability applying for NDIS funding will need to supply evidence-based reports from professional therapists (e.g. occupational therapists, psychologists, speech pathologists, and dieticians) with training, skills and expertise. 

These reports will need to focus on FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY, not medical results or advice.

Here is a Guide for Health Practitioners and Professionals when writing reports for NDIS access.

Report Writing Guide




NDIS Access


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