The recent Royal Commission into Violence, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disabilities exposed genuinely-held concerns about the care and support for some of Australia’s most vulnerable citizens. The experiences of people who have suffered violence, abuse and neglect - those who have been let down by successive governments, systems and individuals - is harrowing.
The Royal Commission report highlighted the need for change. It also reaffirmed the critical role of support workers in the lives of people living with disabilities – a workforce which, overwhelmingly, comprises some of the most committed, skilled and compassionate people in our community.
As we approach International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) on December 3, it is an opportune time to shine a light on the contribution people living with disabilities make to our community – and those who support them.
For many people living with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities, support workers play an integral part in their lives.
At Lighthouse Disability, we see this every day. Being a disability support worker is a huge privilege and responsibility.
It’s not just about providing physical assistance; it’s about enabling clients and giving them agency to achieve their goals and dreams.
Disability support workers understand each person has unique needs and aspirations. Where they can, they foster a sense of independence. They teach clients skills, encourage them, and give them more autonomy and confidence so they can participate within the household, the community and, in some cases, the workforce.
They are also advocates, providing a voice for their clients who, often, are unable speak up for themselves. They connect, understand and represent the people they support.
Frequently, disability support workers are an extension of their client’s family – the person a family relies on to get their loved ones to critical medical appointments and help them with the most personal elements of support.
In some cases, support workers are the closest people our clients have to family. I have lost count of how many times a staff member has told me they want to work at Christmas or on another specific date because they know their client will be needing to see a friendly, familiar face or hear a comforting voice on that day.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, around 4.4 million Australians live with disability of which a quarter live with a severe or profound disability. One in every five South Australians identifies as having a disability.
There are around 460,000 care and support workers (excluding mental health) in Australia who are employed across a wide range of occupations and multiple industries. Over recent years, growth in the care and support workforce has been three times faster than total employment across the Australian economy reflecting increased demand and the expansion of the NDIS.
By and large, support workers are the unsung heroes who enable people with disabilities to live with dignity, independence and inclusion bridging the gap between hope and opportunity.
On IDPwD 2023 and every day, their positive impact on the lives of their clients and our community, is immeasurable.