I cannot recall my careers teacher ever asking me (or anyone) if being a disability support worker was something I might like to become. I did not know it was a job even, yet alone what it entailed or what studies I could undertake in that field. No, I left school and went to university and studied journalism and anthropology (google it). Working as a journalist for TIME magazine travelling all over the world, that was my dream job. But I still wonder to this day if anyone considers being a disability support worker their dream job. I really hope they do. Having worked in the “field” for over 20 years now, I have had a lifetime of experiences, relationships, memories, heartache and hard work that I may never had known as a globe-trotting journalist.
So with a little over two years until we have full NDIS rollout, and all the rhetoric about people having their needs met, working on their goals, and planning the life they want with the supports they want, we need to find about 400,000 new workers on top of those we already have. (Let’s not even consider the 600,000+ workers we will need in the aged care sector as our baby boomers start to enter that system.) I wonder how we sell this work to a new generation of young people in schools today, as a genuine area of employment.
I have had my fair share of people coming up to me over the years with comments such as “you must be a very special person to do this work”, “it must be great to give something back to the community” or my favourite “there is a special place in heaven for people who do what you do.” Yes really, that’s why I do this, I want a special seat in heaven…
So let me tell you about some of the work that I have been paid to do…
I took a young lady on a cruise ship around Vanuatu all expenses paid. I travelled with another girl and her family to Queensland for two weeks on a caravan trip. I have been paid for my time and my tickets to see three AFL grand finals, four Boxing Day tests, six concerts (didn’t hate seeing U2), and at least four music festivals (Including Tamworth and Falls Festival). I have lost count of how many holiday weekends, lazy days in the pool and adventures I have been paid to do.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all fun and holidays, but what job is? Furthermore I have always found that I have been well compensated for my time and been able to work the hours I wanted.
With the change in disability landscape to a consumer driven marketplace, wherein people with disability have the power and now the money to choose how they live and who will help them, it is time to shift the sales pitch of a disability support worker from one of compassion and care to that of life skills, opportunity and even adventure. The diversity in jobs is as diverse as the people I have worked for. This sector needs young workers, workers from different backgrounds, older workers, female workers, workers with their own lived experience of disability, workers full time, part time and casual, workers with families or without…
This is an exciting time to reform the way we perceive employment opportunities for “disability support workers”, and take the life skills and interests of people and transform them into matched employment opportunities with other like-minded people.
I am hoping to walk into my own children’s school careers day, and see the stand for “disability worker” swamped by children all lining up to learn more in the near future.
Adam Williams is a community development and disability champion with 20+ years in private, NFP and government sectors. He’s a father/stepfather to 6, 43 years young, and passionate about true inclusion for all.
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