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Family Matters No. 37 - April 1994

Supporting people with a disability and their families

Peter Fisher

Abstract

This is the third of a four part series examining the priority issue of disadvantaged families. In particular, this paper focuses on supporting those people who have a disability. To achieve its aim of increasing opportunities for people with disabilities to undertake employment with a fair wage, the Commonwealth government has introduced two complementary types of services. The first, Competitive Employment, Training and Placement Services, are specialist job placement agencies that help people with a disability, usually with lower support needs, into open employment at award wages. The second type, Supported Employment Services, support people who need substantial ongoing support to obtain and retain paid employment where open employment is presently unlikely. The overall purpose of these schemes is to enable families to have choices about options available to them and for the presence of a disability not to be a barrier in their economic, educational, career and recreational decisions.

It is almost impossible to paint a picture of what it is like to have a child or parent or sibling with a disability, and to reflect accurately the needs and issues that affect those families.

The International Year of the Family provides a good opportunity for us to think about the issues and work out ways to improve support for people with a disability and their families. We need to see beyond a wheelchair or a hearing aid when we think of disability.

For governments, working out how to stretch the dollars available to meet the needs of people with a disability, when there are so many types of disability and issues to deal with, presents an ongoing challenge.

An important decision has been taken by Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to avoid duplication of effort in the disability services field so that the public funds can be stretched further. The decision, now embodied in formal agreements, provides for the Commonwealth to have responsibility for employment issues and services and the States and Territories for accommodation and related services.

Importance of employment

The Commonwealth's focus on employment is significant for families which include someone with a disability. For that person, gaining a meaningful job with fair conditions and pay can be the single most crucial factor in determining their social as well as economic independence. Up to half a million Australians with a disability are capable of employment, provided the type of job is compatible with their disability.

To achieve its aim of increasing opportunities for people with disabilities to undertake worthwhile work for which a fair wage is paid, the Commonwealth has introduced two complementary types of service. They have been designed to take account of the differing circumstances, aspirations, needs and disabilities of potential employees.

The first type, known as Competitive Employment, Training and Placement Services are specialist job placement agencies that help people with a disability, usually with lower support needs, into open employment at award wages. in addition to finding jobs for their clients, they provide an initial period of intensive on-the-job training followed by a lower level of maintenance support. There is a network of more than 110 of these services throughout Australia.

The second type, Supported Employment Services, support people who need substantial ongoing support to obtain and retain paid employment where open employment is presently unlikely. There are almost 150 of these services across the country.

For people with injuries or disabilities who require rehabilitation before entering or re-entering the workforce, the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (CRS) offers a range of services through a national network of more than 160 regional offices. Case management techniques are used to develop individually tailored programs for each client. This year CRS will provide, programs to more than 35,000 Australians to assist them gain or keep paid employment and to make the most of their opportunity to integrate fully in their community.

Promoting job opportunities

In this International Year of the Family a further two very important initiatives for people with a disability are being introduced.

Jobnet is designed to help address the concern about the choices available for young people with a disability after they leave school. Jobnet will bridge the gap between school and work. it will help 1200 young people to identify the steps that need to be taken to obtain employment and assist them in taking those steps. Fifteen pilot Jobnet services are being established around the country, with most having commenced in January 1994.

Supported Wage System, to be introduced on 1 July this year, is designed to promote job opportunities for people with a disability who are unable to compete for and obtain jobs at award wages in the open labour market. It will provide a legal basis for paying an assessed pro-rata award wage. A new Disability -Wage Supplement will top up the income of people employed under the Supported Wage System to the level of the Disability Support Pension, if necessary. Employers will be assisted to meet start up costs and workplace modifications, and on-the-job support will also be available to assist the worker.

These two initiatives will greatly assist the Commonwealth to meet its employment objectives for people with a disability and will add to the quality of life of their families.

A further matter of importance and relevance in the context of the International Year of the Family concerns the Government's decision to conduct a major strategic review of the Disability Services Program this year. The Strategic Review will examine the objectives and effectiveness of the Program and identify policy directions and strategies to enable the Program to meet the employment and vocational goals of people with a disability over the next five to seven years.

For families which include a person with a disability, the way in which the family functions, its access to facilities within the community, and its interrelationships to the rest of society will change as measures set out in the Strategy become reality.

Removing discrimination

To broaden the leadership role the Commonwealth plays in Australia on disability issues, the Government passed the Disability Discrimination Act which came into effect in 1993. This provides a mechanism for review of all existing Commonwealth and State laws to remove discriminatory provisions, enables the specification of standards of conduct, service or accessibility required to provide equal opportunity to people with a disability, and envisages that service providers will develop and publish action plans to remove discriminatory aspects of service provision.

The Disability Discrimination act makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their disability. Significantly, it also deals with discrimination against family members and other associates of people with a disability.

Real choices for families

In the International Year of the Family governments, community groups, peak bodies and individuals are taking the time to think hard about the issues that face a family that includes someone with a disability. The Commonwealth has established an interdepartmental group to examine the issues and make recommendations on how to address them. The joint Commonwealth/State Committee of Disability Services Administrators has called for submissions to conduct research into a number of issues relating to families and disability.

However, we have to guard against this being a time of simply thinking about the issues rather than focusing on new ways of doing things to improve the lives of families.

As society considers the challenges of the future, the ideal is for families to have real choices about options available to them, for the presence of disability not to be a barrier in their economic, educational, career and recreational decisions. It is important also that these choices include options for the individual with a disability, as well as options for the family group in terms of joint activities. Both need to be considered as cacti affects the overall quality of family life.