Catering to Australia’s diverse disability community

Posted on 05 April 2018
Catering to Australia’s diverse disability community

The transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is stimulating a competitive market of services catering to Australia's diverse disability community.

Jenine Ellis started her business, CoAbility, in 2017, to offer Support Coordination for NDIS participants across Victoria, including people with disability from the LGBTIQA+ community.

"I was working as the manager of a large disability provider last year, and I was spending a lot of time on NDIS Facebook groups trying to get a feel for what people were dealing with during their NDIS journey," said Jenine, who has more than a decade of experience in the disability sector.

"I noticed a bit of a trend with LGBTIQA+ people looking for LGBTIQA+ friendly supports."

"Over 30 per cent of LGBTIQA+ people hide their sexuality when accessing services, including healthcare," said Jenine.

"LGBTIQA+ people don't necessarily feel they need special treatment, but they don't want to have to explain or justify their lives or relationships every time they meet a new support worker or engage a new provider.

"Instead, they want to feel comfortable that they are in an environment where people understand LGBTIQA+ issues, and they are sure that their support staff are going to work in an inclusive, non-discriminatory way.

"Stigma is such a real thing in the lives of this population!"

Operating from Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges, CoAbility currently has a team of six.

"We work with our clients to find out precisely what sort of support they are looking for, then we start working on finding providers who will be able to provide that service," Jenine said.

"All the while we are building the capacity of the participant or their family to ensure that they will be able to manage their own plan in the future.

Jenine says that sharing her own story as a gay woman has given potential clients "a level of comfort knowing that I at least understand a part of their life journey."

CoAbility is in the process of getting Rainbow Tick accreditation, an initiative that allows organisations to show consumers that they are LGBTIQA+ friendly.

"I think it is imperative that organisations not only include some good person-centred support training, but also begin including LGBTIQA-specific information and scenarios when training their staff in diversity,"  Jenine said.

"For LGBTIQA+ clients and staff to know that their organisation values them, not only as clients or staff, but as human beings, they need to know that their specific set of circumstances is understood, acknowledged and valued.

"This will help to breakdown and dilute stereotypes, stigma and prejudice and encourage LGBTIQA+ people to feel comfortable and safe enough to come out to their providers"

Jenine is passionate about the NDIS and the possibilities it offers for the LGBTIQA+ community. She's glad to see other small business entering the market, and hopes more will follow suit.

"Considering that a large percentage of the LGBTIQA+ community delay accessing services - including disability support – it's essential that providers advertise that they are supportive, safe and culturally appropriate.

"There are also some interesting businesses starting up that will make a significant difference in the lives of people with disability.

"Now with a little bit of investigation, you can find some remarkable, small, almost "boutique" providers who offer innovative services that would not have been available pre-NDIS.

"I think this adds an exciting air to the disability sector at the moment. Sure, there is a bit of uncertainty and movement as things start to settle into the NDIS way, but in general, there is an excitement and a buzz in the air, that I am chuffed to be a part of. I love it!"