by Sandy Masayko
This is the third post in a series from Australia
Let’s see what you can do. That’s the positive motto of Northcott, a comprehensive provider of services to over 13,000 people with disabilities in New South Wales. Today (February 13) I received an orientation to the agency and its many programs, and a tour of the facilities in Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. I detected a theme of empowerment for people with disabilities: control of funding, acknowledgement of the importance of relationships, and recognition of technology as a part of empowerment.
Throughout the day, the changing system of funding for services in Australia, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, permeated discussions. Staff members are not sure what will be the effect of this program, which gives consumers and their families control of funding to select their services and support. Agencies are competing to attract consumers. It’s a new program and there are many questions about how funding will be provided for some services.
Northcott is involved in research and projects that recognize that people with disabilities need to have agency. My morning activities included attending the book launch of Relationships and Recognition: Photos About Working Together. People with cognitive disability and their chosen support workers (paid caregivers) participated in the creation of this book that celebrates development of respectful, trusting, effective partnerships. After a brief presentation by researchers on how support relationships are addressed within policy, participants discussed positive and negative influences on relationships that promote people living in their communities. It was quite thought provoking to hear perspectives of representatives of Australian governmental, educational and social service agencies. We concluded by sharing lunch.
In the afternoon I met with Kathy Prasad, an OT who manages the AT program at Northcott. The AT program serves many people with complex needs by providing evaluation and training mostly within the client’s home or community setting. Some services are delivered remotely by video conferencing with clients and their local therapists. In Australia, unlike the US, schools are not required to provide AT as part of the IEP process. But many schools contract with Northcott to carry out evaluations and training. Kathy and I discussed issues of evolving roles and expectations of AT for people with disabilities and challenges of funding equipment and services. There seem to be many similarities with issues we face in the US.
My final activity of the day was a meeting with Alicia Melita, Sexuality and Relationships Coordinator, who directs a unique educational program to promote social relationships, dating and interaction among young adults with disabilities. Services for adults in the US do not typically address issues around intimacy, and I found this frank recognition of this human need to be refreshing.
I am fortunate that my visit to Northcott coincides with another Easter Seals study tour participant, Cristen Reat. Cristen is from Houston Easter Seals and founder of Bridging Apps. Exchanging perspectives with her adds more depth to my experience.
Day two, February 14, was a focus on Assistive Technology. Speech Pathologist Alana Bain, an AT Specialist at Northcott, drove Cristen and me to a suburb to the south of Parramatta in a car packed with examples of AT. Alana presented a four hour interactive workshop on augmentative communication to “speechies” who practice in hospitals and rehab centers. The audience appeared quite engaged and curious about how to bring AT into acute care settings. Alana’s presentation was quite similar to our presentations on the subject at Easterseals of SEPA
The study tour so far has been quite stimulating and enjoyable. The staff at Northcott is professional, motivated, empathetic and knowledgeable. I am really fortunate to have this experience.