When I was growing up in the St George area of Sydney I used to see the Sunnyhurst bus drive past on my way to school. Sunnyhurst, I thought, was the place all people with a disability would be chauffeured to for the day and home again at night. I never knew what happened inside, and lived like most people, ignorant of the facts.
Over the past years the face of disability services has evolved dramatically. Our loved ones aren’t locked away, schools and companies have embraced inclusiveness and we now use the word ability. I have seen a great deal of this change first hand since my beautiful daughter Luci was born in 1999 with Down Syndrome.
I love the word ability. We have never seen Luci as anything but able and treat her as such. She has a great network of family, friends and school support to boost her ability, albeit a little too successful for her liking sometimes, as she is treated as an adult that has to contribute equally to family and school life.
But there are big changes coming in the form of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The biggest change being rolled out will be the transition from providers receiving government grants up front to a customer based model where those with a disability will shop for services in the market.
The way service providers and broader Australia embraces these concepts and changes will play a big part in its success. During this time I am hoping there won’t be a frenzied grab for clients at any cost. We have recently seen how this can easily become counter-productive and wasteful in the VET sector, but with NDIS vital services are at stake.
I have some experience in this sector as a consumer of services and my work on boards. It is with a knowing eye that I am hopeful that the transition to the NDIS will be respectful and keep as its core focus the people in the centre of the person centred approach.
The persons or people we are talking about of course are our children, brothers, sisters or parents that need a helping hand to live their lives to the full. They are the people we now see travelling to work, mixing with during the lunch rush or maybe being served by them at your favourite store.
This will only be successful if we all work together to ensure the core focus is maintained and we stay true to the scheme’s original vision.
Parents and care givers please get involved. Ask lots of questions, be inquisitive and most of all be the advocate for your loved one. You know them best so be part of program. If you have a great provider already, start talking and working with them now. If this is all new to you, reach out to the many information sessions that are popping up around your local area.
Boards and providers. Remember that at the centre of the NDIS model is my daughter: she needs your help and expertise to live a fulfilling and fruitful life. I would like to see all management teams and Boards front up to their white boards, draw a picture of their client(s) in the middle and start by strategizing how they can help them live their best lives. I know you have worked hard to get to where you are, but the past rarely equals the future and NDIS is a new beginning.
Community, please learn to embrace all abilities. You have a vital role to play in understanding and supporting everyone regardless of ability. Living and interacting with the community builds amazing esteem and confidence that cannot be equalled with just therapy or services alone.
The transition won’t be easy and some providers will feel the pain of change while others will emerge stronger and focused on the future of the Ability Sector. The one thing I ask is that as you are making those tough choices that shape your futures, the picture you drew of your client in the middle of your white board is in your mind’s eye and is at the centre of all those choices and decisions you make.