Alison’s story- no two days the same

My name is Alison O’Toole. I am a Regional Manager with Lifestart. Life Start supports children and young people with a disability or developmental delay as well as their families and carers.  I’ve been in this role for nearly two years. Before this I worked for 9 years in different places around the world as an Occupational Therapist (OT).

I knew I wanted to be an OT in year 9. I did my work experience with an OT working with children with cerebral palsy. The experience really stuck with me. The OT there was doing simple but effective work with the children in a preschool setting. I was really inspired.

IMG_1130As an OT you look at all the little things we do throughout our day that fulfil us. It could be socialising.  It could be physically how we perform certain tasks- tying shoelaces, feeding oneself, hygiene related skills. Or it could be the more foundational areas of development such as concentration, attention and self-regulation. How we stay organised in different environments.  These are some of the things areas that an OT would look at.

Being an OT took me both overseas and to outback Australia. I worked in the UK and Canada in the disability sector before returning to Australia and working in Outback NSW and Sydney. I have supported children with learning difficulties and disabilities in a range of different settings.

I’ve always been really passionate about social inclusion; I believe that everyone has a place in our community and should feel valued.  I also believe that everyone should have a place in their local school. The role of early intervention is to ensure children with a disability and their families believe this is possible, and the right supports are put in place to ensure they are able to participate in their community. A lot of opportunities are opened up when you use a strength based approach and empower the child and family.

The work that I do with families tends to be long term which means that you develop strong relationships with families and are part of their journey.This has really resonated with me on an emotional level. Also, every child is different. Every family situation is different and unique. So every day of work is so completely different and that’s so exciting and stimulating.

lilly and neridahWorking with children is important because in those early years children are still developing their sense of self, who they are in the world. And obviously the amount of learning that happens in those early years is massive.  So much learning and development comes through play, so an important part of the role of an OT is using a play based approach to skill development.  There’s a lot of intense wiring happening in the brain in those early years and when you’re able to support a child’s development at this stage it can have a huge impact.  Most importantly, you’re connecting with the child’s sense of self, their belief in themselves and their place in the world.  Who they are as a learner, a peer, a friend, a son or daughter.

To illustrate, I worked with a little boy in a remote outback community who had so many strengths and was just this amazingly social child. However, he found it really hard to stay organised in some environments. This resulted in a lot of anti-social behaviours. His placement at the school was in jeopardy but the nearest school was nearly 100kms away. This was enormously stressful for the family and the school. I was able to work with the child, teacher, school and family, to bring everyone together and find ways to support him at school. Everyone gained a better understanding of the boy and what he needed to be successful at school.  I also worked directly with the boy and his peers around appropriate ways to engage with each other.  It made such a big difference to the school, the family and of course the child.Play Group Little Vegemites

If someone wanted to work with children in the disability sector I would say this. No two children are the same so no two days will ever be the same. But the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution, to change a person’s life, their family and community, makes the sector such a satisfying place to work in because you know you’re making a real difference.




Louise’s story- helping people to live life to the full

I went to a projectABLE workshop just after I had started volunteering at Share Care Respite Services. Previously I had volunteered at a special education school in Minto. It was actually one of the staff members at Share Care who told me about the projectABLE workshops. I went home, researched it and the next week went to school and spoke to my Careers Adviser. Our school ended up sending a group to a projectABLE workshop hosted by Share Care.

a projectABLE workshop is interactive ….

The workshop was both fun and eye opening. Although I had some experience in the sector through volunteering, it gave me greater insight into the experiences of people with disability. We played various games and activities where we were put in someone else’s shoes to give us insight into what it’s like living with disability. These were experiences of things we had never done before. We watched videos and learnt how people with disabilities can live independent lives like everyone else. We were also introduced to the types of care, help and support some people with disability require.

… co-led by people with disabilities …

Now I am a Disability Support Worker for Macarthur Disability Services. I work in a day program. Our customers arrive and we assist them with morning tea before getting ready to go out on ‘community access’. The activities vary but they can range from bowling, swimming, tennis, hip hop, drumming, visiting the sensory room or going out to lunch. On other occasions we might do activities in house such as cooking, craft, scrapbooking, massage therapy, music, movies, beauty or outdoor games. After activities customers have lunch, some with assistance and then personal care is completed. More activities are provided so customers can choose what they would like to do. Then the customers travel home.

… and transformative!

On a daily basis we assist customers to work on their goals and follow their interests. These are as varied as the people. It might be getting assistance with personal care, learning new living skills, spending time out of their wheelchair, getting lunch out, going to the car races or making a necklace, the list goes on. Working in the disability sector also allows me to pursue my own goals. Work is flexible enough that I am able to do further studies by correspondence, which helps me in my work.

I love going to work every day and seeing the smile on a customer’s face when they complete one of their goals or are participating in activities they love.  For me I love helping customers with things they thought they could never do and helping them get out into the community.

I have heard people say that they couldn’t work in the disability sector because it’s too sad. I would say to them it’s not sad- it’s great! It’s a wonderful experience to be able to assist another person in living their life to the full. It’s rewarding to see an individual complete their goals and enjoy their life.



Asta’s story- not being afraid to speak up

My name is Asta Beavis. I am the Client Service Manager at Endeavour Group Australia; I support our coordinators in the delivery of services, such as community access, accommodation and drop in support. However at the moment I also have a project role ensuring our organisation is ready for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

This November will mark my fifth year with Endeavour. Before that I had ten years with another disability organisation based in Newcastle. I started as a first year university student. I was studying psychology and was told to get work experience in the social services sector. I chose a disability organisation. Originally the plan was to build my networks so
that finding a supervisor later in my degree would be easier. However I ended up loving the work so much that I began a full time role in the sector.

You see my experience of disability began with my family. I have a brother with an intellectual disability and I have a sister with profound hearing impairment. When my older brother was going through high school he didn’t have a great time. He was bullied a lot. He would come home in tears; he wouldn’t want to go to school. I couldn’t understand why people thought he was different. I didn’t see him as different.

But as I got older, I understood that because his speech was a little impaired and he’s hard to understand, that’s why people decided to pick on him. He was an easy target, I guess, because he wasn’t able to defend himself.

Since then I’ve always been passionate about making sure there were advocates, people who would assist and empower people to become independent. I personally wanted to help people to have an opinion, to be able to speak their opinion, to contribute to community and society and not be afraid to speak up.

We still need to educate the wider community; make sure people are all on the same page. There are still lots of perceptions out there for people with a disability. It’s our role to change that. This is particularly important because the NDIS is putting a lot on community. The NDIS wants to utilise the community more. However we also need to look at how we can assist the community to be ready for this responsibility.

At Endeavour our programs are designed around what people want. This might be something an individual is interested in or something for the group to do.  We ensure our clients choose what they do, choose their life, choose their journey, choose their goals.

It can take a little while for people to be comfortable saying, “This is what I want to do withIMG_1534 my life, this is my goal.” We have person centred planning which is fantastic but it can take a little while for people to speak up.  Some of our clients have never had this opportunity before. Some are reluctant because it might be something only they have thought of. It’s not only about the person with a disability. For many goals to be realistic we need the community to help us.

This is the second year Endeavour has participated in projectABLE. To students wanting to know what the NDIS is all about I would say this.  It’s about empowering people to achieve their goals and dreams and having the extra support to do that.