Tag Archives: sydney

Last Day in Australia

by Sandy Masayko

This is the final post from Australia and Sandy’s exploration and sharing of assistive technology

1332 stairs! That’s how many stairs my son and I climbed today on the Harbour Bridge Climb. It was a wonderful way to end my study tour in Australia: I now have the broad view of Australian services for people with disabilities! I treasure my many new acquaintances and I’ve seen a wide range of programs that have made me think about how we can adapt some of our programs in Pennsylvania.

  • Thank you to the National Office of Easterseals for selecting me for the study tour.
  • Thank you to Easterseals of SEPA for supporting my trip.
  • And thanks most of all to the hosts during my trip: Northcott, Rocky Bay and Ability Centre, affiliates of Ability First Australia.

Special thanks to Northcott for the gift of the Bridge Climb passes.


The Harbour Bridge is 134 meters (440 feet) high. We climbed through intermittent rain today for beautiful views of Sydney.

Sandy has shared her journey through a series of blog posts. You can read the first one here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, the seventh here, the eighth here, the ninth here and the tenth here.

Party in Perth!

by Sandy Masayko

This is the sixth post in a series from Sandy’s trip to Australia

Saturday morning I flew across Australia from Sydney to Perth, almost as far as flying from Philly to San Francisco, a trip that took 4 ½ hours. I am now in a city that’s about as far as a person can get from Philadelphia; if I were to continue flying west I’d be on my way back to Philly. My first visit will be at Rocky Bay.

Penetrating dry heat enveloped Perth on the day I arrived. Perfect weather for a party! The evening of February 18, about 650 employees and guests of Rocky Bay dressed up for the Staff Ball, which was a celebration of all that the teams have accomplished over the past year and a chance to honor staff members who have made special contributions to the agency. One of the honorees was a member of the AT Team, John Roberts, who has worked at Rocky Bay constructing adaptations for clients for many years.


Cheryl Lockwood, Manager of AT and AT Team members and guests socialized prior to the award ceremony.

Sandy is writing is a series of posts from her assistive technology adventures in Australia. You can read the first one here, the second one here, the third one here, the fourth one here and the fifth one here.

Study Tour in Australia at Northcott Transition, Reconciliation & Innovation

by Sandy Masayko

This is the fifth post in a series from Australia

Transition, reconciliation and innovation were the focus of my last two days at Northcott on February 16 & 17. I continued to share many of the activities with Cristen Reat of Easterseals Houston.

Transition: Vocational Services for Young Adults & Links for Families


Young adults in the Penrith Vocational Skills Program

Services for young adults who have left school and who are developing employment skills and links for families who need help with their children’s development are the focus for support in two of Northcott’s programs. As in the US, many students have difficulty finding employment after leaving high school and need assistance to identify their passion and to develop work skills needed to succeed. We joined Penrith Vocational Skills for some of their group lessons and a delicious barbecue at their site. In the afternoon we met with Link workers who provide support to families of children up to age 9 with developmental issues. Thank you to Michelle Budden, Office Manager for these programs, for introducing us to these fine programs.


Link Workers provide support to families of children with developmental challenges

Reconciliation: Inclusion of Aboriginal Communities

 Many group meetings in Australia open with a statement acknowledging the Aboriginal people who were the first people in Australia, and one meeting I attended began with a welcome by an Aboriginal artist, speaking in her first language. Northcott is committed to reconciliation, or building “an inclusive society where people can live a life they choose.” This includes acknowledgement of Aboriginal culture and ensuring that Aboriginal people are able to fully participate in the programs offered by Northcott, as employees and as customers. We had an informative and frank discussion with Debbie Frail, an Aboriginal woman who advises on Aboriginal and Torres Strain Islander Programs at Northcott. She shared the Reconciliation Action Plan with us, the agency’s plan to address recognition of the cultural heritage and perspectives of Aboriginal people.


Nichola Midgley, Senior Manager; Cristen Reat, Easterseals Houston; Debbie Frail, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Program Advisor; Sandy Masayko

Innovation: Step Climbing Wheelchair

Innovation is being addressed at Northcott in an independent agency that is wholly owned by Northcott: Northcott Innovation. Sam Frain, an OT, directs the program that has developed many new designs including an add-on to a power wheelchair that allows the chair to climb one step. See the YouTube video here for a demonstration of this amazing invention. It is not yet commercially available. Apps, adapted equipment and orthotics formed from 3D printers are also in development at Northcott Innovation.


Sam Frain describing some of the Northcott Innovation’s projects

The commitment to providing excellent services, empathy, and professional knowledge are evident at Northcott. Even though the agency is going through some adjustments because of the new National Disability Insurance Scheme, which turns people with disabilities into customers who have control over their funds and how they will be spent, the staff members were upbeat and welcomed the change. I want to thank all the people who spent time with me the past week explaining their programs. We did a lot of talking in the cars as we traveled western suburbs of Sydney. I especially want to thank Nichola Midgely who arranged my visits with the professionals and added some extra meetings to meet my curiosity about programs.

Read the first post in this series here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here.

AT in OZ Introduction to Northcott

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.


Kathy Prasad & Sandy in AT at Northcott

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


Alana Bain presenting on AT to hospital based Speech Pathologists.

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.


Cristen Reat (Easterseals Houston), Alana Bain (Northcott) & Sandy Masayko

Read part one of the series here.

Read part two of the series here.

Assistive Technology in the Land Down Under!

by Sandy Masayko, Director of Assistive Technology

When you think of Australia, what comes to mind? Kangaroos, perhaps? Or koalas, crocodiles or the Great Barrier Reef? Probably Assistive Technology wasn’t at the top of the list, but I am about to travel to Australia to explore how the Aussies are using and developing AT to serve people with disabilities in their country.

This afternoon I am setting out for Sydney, Australia, on the first part of my study tour of three Easter Seals affiliates in Australia.  In the fall I was delighted to be selected by the National Office of Easter Seals to visit Ability First Australia agencies: Northcott in Sydney; Rocky Bay and Ability Centre in Perth. My goals are to learn how AT is delivered in Australia, to investigate new technologies, and to share information about our programs at Easter Seals of SEPA.  And to enjoy Australia!

With about 20 hours of flying time and additional time for layovers and transportation to and from the airport, this will be a very long trip from Philly.  First I fly to Los Angeles, and then after a three-hour layover, I will board a plane for Sydney, a 14 hour flight that involves crossing the International Date Line.  I will be arriving in Sydney 8:45 am on Friday, February 10.  My strategy for adapting to the time change is to stay awake as long as I can on the flight out of Los Angeles by reading and watching films, then pull my sleep mask over my eyes to catch a few hours of sleep. When I wake up, it should be about time to land in Sydney.

Over the next three weeks I will share my journey with you by blogging at our Easter Seals of Southeastern PA website.  I look forward to your comments and questions.