Ability Links: Building inclusive communities

2 February 2017 | Posted In: #131 Summer 2017, Disability – National Disability Insurance Scheme, Disability Services, Human Service Delivery, | Author: Ability Links NSW

Ability Links NSW is a statewide initiative that is all about building inclusive communities. They do this in two ways: working with individuals on their personal goals to connect them with their community in a way that’s meaningful for them; and working alongside community groups and businesses to support them to become more welcoming and accessible. The stories in this article illustrate how this works in practice.

Supporting individuals to achieve their goals

When was the last time you thought about your skills, talents and dreams and where they could take you? These are the questions that Ability Links NSW staff, known as Linkers, are raising with people with disability, mental illness, and their families and carers across New South Wales every day.

Linkers support people to identify their goals and interests, and build their connections in their local community. Ability Links NSW supports people to pursue a wide range of personal goals, whether it’s to join an interest group or club, secure paid or volunteer work, or learn new skills by joining a class. Linkers are hands-on workers who support people to achieve their goals and connect with their community.

Making our communities more accessible  

As well as working with individuals, Ability Links NSW has a focus on making our communities more inclusive and accessible. This could be through providing disability awareness training, improving physical accessibility or facilitating community discussions about inclusion. Every Body at the Beach and Developing Leaders in Disability Awareness are some stories of how Ability Links has improved accessibility in different areas of our community.

If you have noticed any barriers to access, or anything that could be improved to make our communities more inclusive, contact Ability Links NSW and let us know.

Could you, or someone you know, benefit from being better linked with your community?

Anyone aged between 9 to 64 years who identifies as living with a disability, or their families and carers can contact Ability Links NSW to begin working with a Linker.  You can tell us if you have any preferences for the Linker you would like to work with, for example their gender, cultural background, age or personality type. Linkers can meet you in your home or somewhere else in your community such as a café, park or library to talk about what you might like to do or explore.

You can begin working with Ability Links NSW by making contact with us via phone, email or by dropping into one of our offices.  For more information and stories, check out the Ability Links NSW website or give us a call.

For some examples of how Ability Links has supported people, take a look at Eric’s and Ruby’s stories.

Eric’s Story

Eric is a 16-year-old boy living with autism who was looking for something to do after school. After some conversations about his talents and strengths, Eric shared that he is a chess lover and would be interested in sharing his skills with others who would like to learn the game.

A Linker introduced Eric and his family to their local library, and proposed to staff that Eric could help start and teach a chess club. The library was extremely keen to help get this idea off the ground and offer chess tutorials to members of the community.

The Linker assisted Eric to develop a poster to promote the new chess club throughout the local community. Within the first month the chess club had 10 attendees from local primary schools.

Eric loves teaching people and has very few opportunities to do this at high school. John, Eric’s father, says he loves that everyone who comes to the chess club wants to be there. “The people Eric helps are very cooperative and thankful for his input and support, and he’s just so happy in his afternoon role,” John says.

Ruby’s Story

Ruby is a bubbly and creative 21-year-old with a passion for dance and floristry. Ruby and her mother met with a Linker with the hope of finding a dance class for Ruby as well as a course in floristry at TAFE.

Ruby’s Linker supported her to connect with the local university’s dance society which is run by students. They were happy to include Ruby and were excited by her skills as a dancer. They offered her a place in the annual revue immediately! Ruby and her Linker then put together a “One Page Profile” to help the students in the society to understand a bit more about Ruby’s strengths and how to support her. They included things like someone meeting her at the same spot each week and helpful communication strategies for when she is stressed.

At the same time as re-engaging with her love of dance, Ruby was interested in gaining some work skills by undertaking a Certificate III in Floristry at TAFE. Through some negotiation and self-advocacy, together Ruby and her Linker were able to secure her a place within the course and ensure that adequate in-class supports were available for helping with some of the theory content. Ruby finished the semester with some fantastic results.

Ruby has now started work experience at a local well-known cake-making and floristry shop where she assists with preparing flowers and icing decorations for large weddings.

Every Body at the Beach – Disability Awareness Training for Lifeguards 

Through conversations, Linkers learnt that lifeguards on the eastern beaches did not feel confident to support people to use the beach wheelchairs. In response, the East Sydney team partnered with Royal Rehab to develop lifeguard training that would cover not only the use of beach wheelchairs, but also a general look at disability awareness and how lifeguards can support people with any disability on the beach.

In the development of the training, the Ability Links team developed a video that captured the experiences and advice from people with a range of disabilities.

We interviewed five people who love going to the beach and they explained the barriers and challenges they face, and how lifeguards can make the beach a more accessible and inclusive space.

The training was rolled out in September this year to lifeguards through the Northern Beaches of NSW and Gold Coast councils. It is now being delivered across Australia by Royal Rehab and includes theory and practical elements, including simulation activities that provide lifeguards with an insight into what it’s like to live with a disability.

You can watch the video on the Ability Links website:  http://www.abilitylinksnsw.org.au/story/DisabilityAwareness

Developing Leaders in Disability Awareness – Gratia Café Surry Hills

The Sydney City team has worked with local café Gratia to become a leader in this space. A Linker introduced café staff to local community members with disability. Over a meal, staff learnt about how to provide a positive experience for people with a disability in their café.

“It’s been extraordinary,” says Gratia’s Troy Byrnes. “It gives us a perspective that we often don’t see, and gives us a greater understanding of living with a disability. It also has reshaped how we engage with customers with differing needs”.

“We want to engage with our diverse community and cultivate a socially conscious space that respects and encourages difference. Perceived difference is often something that arbitrarily divides people and can often make people with a disability feel unwelcome, and even unsafe,” Mr Byrnes says. “We want to see that people with a disability are respected and given opportunities to reach their full potential. It expands our community, cultivates safe and welcoming spaces and contributes to a greater social cohesion.”

You can find out more about Ability Links NSW on their website at www.abilitylinksnsw.org.au or by phone 8622 0456 or email ability.links@vinnies.org.au