For most of us, living a life without our online social networks is not comprehensible. After all, you are currently reading this blog post online, the comments are interactive, this post is being shared and promoted across multiple platforms and is likely to prompt responses and reactions that will spark thought and feedback and may cause a small difference to how you, as the reader, view the world. You may also have multiple browser windows open or apps running on your device.  When is the last time you checked Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, sent a text message or shared a photo instantly? Our online networks are an important, enriching and very entrenched part of our lives.

For people with disability, this is often not the way that their world works. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing found that 75% of people with an intellectual disability had never written, texted, emailed, or used social media tools to contact their family or friends. This is not due to a lack of desire to do so, but rather a lack of technical awareness, training, support to use social media tools, or income to purchase a smartphone, computer or tablet.

Social Networks Social Exclusion

In 2015, it was found that for people with intellectual disability, digital literacy means greater independence in school, at home, in the community and at work. For someone with lower literacy or with verbal communication barriers, the use of emojis to communicate emotions, activities or locations can open up a whole new spectrum of communication. ☺️ ? ? ☔️

Being able to share photos with friends and family creates a sense of inclusion and community that may not otherwise be felt and, importantly, as well as the increased communication, having a mobile phone can act as an extra safety net for people with a disability who do not require constant support, as it allows them to move safely through the community and grow in independence while knowing that they can contact someone if an issue arises

Like other Australians, people with disability are seeking further education and training in order to pursue employment opportunities and prosperous career paths.

Post-secondary education is increasingly becoming an option for students with intellectual disability, and progressively, effective post-secondary education providers are running classes that are personalised, small, and focused on individual learning. As well as providing this optimized learning environment, there is a focus on vocational training and providing workshops relating to financial literacy, community safety and work readiness.

This new and evolving model of training is more effective when providers work in partnership with personalised support providers. An example of a provider that is doing this very well is Inclusion Training.

Inclusion Training has built their education model to provide many options to personalize the learning experience for students. They offer ‘taster courses’ to help students select a course of their interest.  Inclusion Training also focus on literacy and numeracy skills.

As highlighted by disability education investigator Sheppard-Jones in 2015, research shows that post-secondary study leads to more job opportunities, higher income, increased independence and a decreased need for ongoing support. To quote the study: “post-secondary education offers the promise of pursuing a valued social role, enhanced social networks, and, most significantly, increased employment options”.

The journey from School to Career

Every Australian has the right to an education, yet only 36% of people aged 15-64 with an intellectual disability have completed high school, and an even smaller number go on to further study.

Although the statistics on post-school study show that only 9% of people aged 20-24 and 5% of people aged 25 and above with a disability have gone on to university, internships or vocational and trade courses at TAFE, there is some good news in this area.

Post-school education is increasingly becoming an option for adults with intellectual disability, and support and educational services and organisations such as Inclusion Training are at the forefront of a new breed of tailored providers that are leading this change.

Danielle is an example of what is possible. She completed high school when she was 18 despite having a significant communication barrier and needing sign language to communicate. She then wanted to further her studies. Danielle enrolled in a Certificate I at Inclusion Training and as she has a passion for animals, did work experience at the Melbourne Aquarium and the Collingwood Children’s Farm. Inclusion Melbourne was then able to support her to continue with her studies and she is currently studying for her Certificate II in Animal studies through TAFE, with the aim to be qualified to be an animal care attendant or assistant dog groomer, and potentially continue on to become a vet nurse.

Lifelong learning improves the overall social, educational and employment goals for people living with disability, and enables them to attain a career which ensures a brighter future. Danielle has received personalised support to work towards her goals and to develop a pathway to work in a field she loves. It has helped her gain experience, and enabled and encouraged her to undertake further study.

disability and study after school
Disability and Study after School

Dorelle and Heather have been close friends for over 10 years, and over that time their relationship has evolved, as many do, from one of polite acquaintance through to love and mutual trust.

What is noteworthy about Dorelle and Heather is that Dorelle is a retiree in her mid-seventies, and Heather, a fifty-year-old woman with severe intellectual disability who requires a wheelchair for mobility and does not communicate through speech.

In Australia, disability and social isolation too commonly go hand in hand. In survey results detailed in Deep and Persistent Disadvantage Report 2008, it was found that 80% of Melburnians with profound communication and mobility limitations had not been visited by friends or family in the three months prior to the survey; 60% had not received a phone call; and 20% had no social contact at all. These numbers are not due to a desire to be alone or isolated, the same study also found that 57% of people with an intellectual disability desired to see friends and family more often.

We know that being isolated and excluded has profound impacts on self-worth and self-esteem, and that people with a disability want to live in a society where they are not segregated as ‘those people with disabilities’.

When Dorelle retired from her high profile job, she considered volunteering as a way to avoid the social isolation that can come with no longer being part of a busy office, and approached Inclusion Melbourne to offer her time. While Dorelle initially considered that her volunteering would be of most benefit to the people she was helping and that all she would gain was to be keeping busy and active, what she found was that spending time with Heather actually reduced her own feelings of personal isolation and supported her sense of self-worth.

Dorelle gained the opportunity to be accepted by others, to matter to someone else, to give and receive affection and intimacy and to have someone to touch. Through volunteering and developing her friendship with Heather, Dorelle’s life has been enriched and she has become aware of her own skills and strengths.

What is important to understand is that people with disability do not want to be segregated or isolated. They want to be included, appreciated, and live fulfilling and meaningful lives contributing to their local community. For those volunteering, there are huge benefits outside of the obvious help that is being provided. There is also the opportunity to avoid their own social isolation, to develop new skills, to gain the satisfaction of knowing that they are making a difference in someone else’s life, and to feel the self-worth and self-esteem that comes from making a difference.

Disability and Isolation

Imagine living on $360 per week, and having only this income to pay for your accommodation, food, clothes, transport and leisure. This is the reality that many Australians with a disability face, and the reason that so many are living close to or below the poverty line.

In 2013, $15 billion was spent to provide 800,000 Australians with the Disability Support Pension (DSP), a fortnightly payment designed to cover daily living expenses. The DSP and supporting payments usually total a maximum of $360 per week and is counted on for survival, though it is barely enough to live on.

There is a sense of frustration in many, that despite the large amount of money allocated by the commonwealth and state and territory governments, very little seems to trickle down to those who need it the most.

As discussed in The Productivity Commission’s 2013 Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia report, it is well understood that the way out of disadvantage for most people of working age is employment, yet only 30% of employment placements through Disability Employment Services last longer than six months.

If the DSP could be seen as a minimum to enable people with a disability to have a base income while furthering economic participation and community involvement within the workforce, we would all benefit. This could be achieved through providing support that makes it more viable for people with disability to have employment and connections in their community and therefore allowing the money provided by the DSP to be used in more beneficial ways.

An example of this model is what Inclusion Melbourne does well; offering individually tailored support that allows people with a disability to decide what they want to do daily, with one-on-one support and with training for skill development and support from volunteers. With the NDIS being introduced until 2019, people receiving the DSP will have more control over the support services they require to live inclusive and enjoyable lives.

high cost of a poor system

The inclusion into community experienced by people with disability often takes years to develop, and although this inclusion can be fragile, it has the power to provide life meaning and security. The Australian Government’s 2009 ‘Shut Out Report’ argues that for people with a disability, it should not require such extraordinary effort to live an ordinary life.

Olivia, a 34 year old woman, had been living at home supported by her mother. In 2014, when Olivia’s mother suddenly passed away, Olivia was relocated in order for her needs for ongoing support to be met. Olivia had lived, worked and developed meaningful relationships in the community where she had spent her whole life, and unfortunately she was moved to a distant suburb where she knew no one, and had no sense of community, safety or inclusion.

Because of the suddenness of the move, together with the loss of her mother and her connections in the community, Olivia experienced both physical and emotional instability, social isolation, mental health issues, and the loss of the skills she had developed in her previous workplace.

People with profound activity limitations are 9 times less likely to participate in activities outside of their home, in comparison to the general population. The suddenness of Olivia’s relocation together with the loss of community support she had built up, means that being able to participate readily in her new environment might not be a simple matter.

The ‘Shut Out Report’ describes the situation as one where people with disabilities are often present in the community, but are not enjoying full participation, and are instead feeling discriminated against and excluded.

The discrimination and exclusion may be occurring in ways that are not considered, for example, lack of access for wheelchairs in playgrounds, cinemas, restaurants, hotels and cafes, or exclusion from exercise facilities and sporting communities. In Australia, local communities, clubs and associations are crucial foundations to ensure inclusion of people with disability into the community.

Olivia’s story is a reminder that we cannot underestimate the power of inclusion to change lives for the better – that inclusion has the power to provide life, meaning and security.

Getting out of the home with a disability

One of the true markers of an inclusive society is economic participation, especially through contribution in the workforce. In Australia, while 83% of people without a disability participate in the workforce, the same is not true for those with a disability. Far from being affirmed as valuable contributors to the workforce and the economy, Australians with a disability have long been seen as passive receivers of financial support and services.

Recent decades has seen positive workforce change for people with a disability, with understanding and expectations rising and opportunities for inclusive education and skills development becoming available. Yet there remains an unavoidable gap between the workforce participation of Australians with a disability and the general population.

Peter is one of the 54% of Australians with a disability participating in the workforce. He works in supported employment, assisting in an aged care home helping staff with recreational activities such as bingo or soft exercise classes. Peter works for 8 hours a week across 2 days, and earns just over $50, less than $10 per hour.

In 2009, the Australian Government’s Shut Out Report suggested that many people have low expectations of people with a disability within the workforce, believing that they cannot learn, or are not able to do anything useful. This attitude leads to people being excluded from tasks that they may have the skill to perform.

this year, after 6 years in the same job, Peter decided he wanted to find other work.  He doesn’t feel challenged any more, isn’t learning new skills and isn’t progressing. Because Peter gets a disability support pension and was assisted in gaining employment, current process means that he can’t simply be transferred to a new job, he has to quit his current job, be unemployed for 6 weeks and can then reapply for a new job. For Peter, this does not just mean loss of income, it means a loss of social inclusion, and a potential loss of the skills that he has learnt.

Currently, there is no incentive for businesses to employ a person with a disability, and there is no incentive to make work meaningful for them. These barriers, together with processes that do not support movement to new workplaces, means that there is exclusion and separation occurring, preventing people from realising their individual capabilities.

As highlighted in ‘Include Me!‘ Inclusion Melbourne’s guide to creating volunteer and employment opportunities, an increasing number of people with a disability are looking at ways to meaningfully participate in their local community.

People with a disability are a tremendous resource yet this is often untapped due to unhelpful stereotypes, a lack of knowledge about their presence in local communities or ineffective communication about their desire to be involved.

excuded from the workforce

Kevin is a bright, amiable man in his mid-40’s, who loves nature, especially the bush, and barracking for the Bulldogs. Kevin is also stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty, and will be for the rest of his life.

Many Australians with disability live close to, or below the poverty line, according to the Productivity Commission’s 2013 ‘Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia’ report. The reality of living close to the poverty line is not just a story of a shortage of money, it is one of lack of opportunity, of being deprived of basics that we all consider necessary for life and of social exclusion.

The members of our communities that are most likely to experience the deep and persistent disadvantage that comes from a life lived close to the poverty line include lone parents, Indigenous Australians, people with a long term health condition, people with a low educational attainment, and like Kevin, people with a disability.

Kevin has been living with a physical disability for most of his adult life, and he knows only too well the realities of a hand-to-mouth existence.

In Australia, the statistics are sobering: 42% of households receiving a Disability Support Pension and 45% of people with a disability, live close to, or below the poverty line.

Kevin lives in a Supported Residential Service with 30 other people, and has a shared room. Kevin automatically has 85% of his disability support pension directed to his accommodation, which leaves him with $60 a week to spend on phone calls, medication, clothing, entertainment, and savings.

In a conversation about disability and poverty, what Kevin and many thousands of Australians like him experience, is a stark illustration of disadvantage.

With the majority of his pension going to an accommodation model that only provides the bare minimum of care and living standards, and leaving him with a small amount to spend and no opportunity to save, it is no surprise that there is a perpetual cycle of poverty.

To read the Deep and Persistent Disadvantage Report, visit  www .pc.gov.au/research/supporting/deep-persistent-disadvantage

Disability and Poverty

In 2009, the Australian Government’s ‘Shut Out’ report clearly stated that people with disabilities are among our nation’s forgotten people. The common perception is that disability is someone else’s problem, someone else’s story. Yet, the statistics alone show that if we were living in an inclusive society, disability would be part of all of our stories, with 15% or 1 in 7 of the Australian population aged 15-64 years having a physical, sensory or cognitive disability.

We are lucky to live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet the daily reality for people with a disability is that they struggle to access the things that we all value as fundamental necessities of life: somewhere to live, to work, adequate healthcare, access to education and recreation.

At Inclusion Melbourne, we are guided by the central belief in the worth and value of every person in our society. We know all too well that more often than not, people with disability are seen as recipients of services and a burden, rather than contributing to, and equal members of our community. Our vision is to provide people with disability the opportunity to live, work and thrive in inclusive communities where everyone has the right to participate in community life and take their place in society as respected citizens.

The good news is that Australia is in the midst of a true cultural shift as communities make themselves more accessible than ever before. The history of disability support in Australia is one where the passive receipt of services was encouraged and there was little or no opportunity to be included as active and valued members of society.

Now, we are moving to a support scheme that encourages participation and values the contribution of everyone. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is driving the required transformation to an individualized and personalised model. The NDIS is being rolled out between now and 2019 and will give participants access to greater choice than they have ever been offered in the past.

Australians with a Disability