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One small step

Flourish 06 Jan 2017

Australian Unity is supporting people with disability and their families to make life-changing decisions.

One small step

Most people take decision-making for granted. We start young, choosing our bedtime stories or insisting on a superhero outfit we’ve worn for five consecutive days. Supported by our families, we make incrementally more important decisions, until as adults we become wholly responsible for our choices.

For some people with intellectual disabilities, acquired brain injuries or who are on the autism spectrum, this ability and opportunity to make decisions may previously have been restricted.

Now, informed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “supported decision-making” is a key element of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Supported decision-making is the process of assisting someone with a disability to make their own decisions, wherever possible, so that they can more fully live what the UN Convention calls “an ordinary life”. The New South Wales Public Guardian is currently rolling out rights-based, person-centred training on supported decision making to service providers. Australian Unity’s NDIS coordinators are undertaking this training so they can offer appropriate support to their clients.

A Support Framework

Carolyn Smith, from the Public Guardian’s office, understands that families may be anxious about this new approach. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” she says. “The sector has an enormous amount of knowledge around this already. We’re just giving people a framework to use that knowledge.

“Families are integral to this whole process. They know and love the person. They need to be involved to highlight the rights of the person, to help determine what they want, and act as a natural support throughout the whole process,” Carolyn says.

It may seem complex, but Carolyn says the message is simple.

“The person with the disability is the decision-maker. It’s looking at what they want to do, removing any obstacles, providing support to make it happen, and building their ability along the way.

The ultimate aim is to empower clients in all aspects of their lives, says Melissa Simcoe from Australian Unity’s Home & Disability Services team.

“It’s part of a generational change of how we support the rights of people living with disability,” Melissa says.

She says service providers should not assume they know clients’ choices.

“The training by the Public Guardian’s office will develop the skills required in our staff to identify where we can build confidence and capacity in our clients to exercise more involvement in their decision-making. It will also support their families and carers to understand the benefits both for now and in the future,” Melissa says.

“This can be especially important for those who are ageing and concerned for their loved one’s future. For some it may provide more opportunities to be a family again.”

Carolyn says families should not have to provide services. “They should just be able to be there to comfort, to love, to be present, to listen.”

Step-by-step Process

Learning how to take positive risks is part of the process.

“Our best lessons in life usually come from learned experience, but people with disabilities are not always afforded this privilege,” Carolyn says.

“Good support includes mitigating risks and allowing people to make mistakes. It’s a step-by-step process, but that’s the reality of decision-making. The more you support it with someone, the better they get at it.”

Melissa says: “This is a shared process about helping people explore their interests and plan and set goals. We’re a facilitator. We want everybody to be comfortable with it.”

While it’s a big change for everyone, Australian Unity is meeting the challenges head-on and preparing to provide the best service possible in supporting people to meet their potential, one step at a time.

words Narrelle Harris

illustration iStockphoto

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Find out more about the services we offer under the NDIS. 




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