Creating opportunities for people with disability.

This Hearts and Minds article was published in Business News.
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The value of Inclusivity

Over the last five years, not-for-profit organisation Uniting WA has extended its offering towards a values-focus disability service delivery model to live up to the value of inclusivity of all people, beyond providing individual support, domestic and social support, shared accommodation, and carer and mental health support. 

“People with disability were seen as needing to be taken care of and protected from the world. While well-intentioned, there were few opportunities for people with disability to participate in the mainstream community,” Uniting WA Co-CEO Michael Chester said.

Several years ago, the typical types of support for a person with disability might have looked like a support worker taking them out for a movie or taking them bowling or maybe for a scenic drive.

Today, participants are being supported to start their own microbusiness, record their own original music, learn how to manage the Perth rail system, or grow their own veggie garden and cook for themselves.

“Our belief is that people with disability should be included in all aspects of community life, and that was not consistent with the closed group supports we delivered,” Mr Chester said.

In 2020, Uniting WA made a decision to close its social groups in favour of individualised personal support tailored to meet the needs and goals of the people it supports. “We chose to understand and deliver services according to a model that valued the social and rights model of disability support,” he said.

Uniting WA emphasises the importance of creating more opportunities for people with disability to call the shots in their own life while focusing on all-abilities rather than disability. “Our team adopts a strengths-based approach, which means that we focus on all the things people can do, rather than the things they cannot do,” Uniting WA Co-CEO Jen Park said.

To deliver on this vision, Uniting WA committed to training and upskilling team members, offering staff training around consent processes and professional boundaries. The charity also consults with Befriend, a Perth-based non-profit social enterprise supporting people with disability to integrate into the community.

“Uniting WA support workers take the time to get to know participants and their life story, their beliefs and values.

The process puts the participants at the centre of all decisions made about the support they receive to build the capacity and resilience needed to continue on a personal recovery journey,” Ms Park said.

Uniting WA provides disability services in five key avenues, including community access, supported independent living, host families, behaviour support, and mental health support.

Over the past year, Uniting WA’s individualised services pathway has included more than 134,000 hours of NDIS support delivered and 165 participants in NDIS services. It also launched a 15-module NDIS quality and safeguarding learning pathway to merge compliance and best practice training across the individualised services team.

Two supported independent living properties in Willagee and Ballajura were renovated and refurbished during the year to improve accessibility and functionality for residents.

The charity also launched a stakeholder reference group which reaches out to participants of disability services and gathers their feedback to shape and inform its service delivery. “This is the kind of framework that allows Uniting WA to know that we are listening to people with disability and empowering them to shape the services they want to receive or how they want to be supported,” Ms Park said.

“People with disability and mental health are included in all aspects of community life and feel a deep sense of belonging. They have natural support networks and their choices are supported and respected to ensure they are living a life that is meaningful and purposeful for them,” she added.