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and inclusion

Same challenges – different place?

28/10/15 · Posted in CCS Disability Action, Employment

With government reforms of the disability sector, understandably taking some time to move from demonstrations to design and implementation is it time for more organisations and leaders in the disability sector to make bold changes themselves?

I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with other leaders in the disability and mental health sectors from a number of countries. The focus of this gathering was on “Accelerating Change Towards Mental Health, Well-Being and Inclusion” and the leadership required of organisations and individuals to make it happen. The programme consisted of spending a couple of days in small groups exchanging ideas and information with a local organisation, provider or agency and then coming together to network and share learnings.

The focus of my visit was supported employment, which is very topical as the Ministry of Social Development is currently leading a review of how vocational services are provided and ways that disabled people can be better supported into employment. The other people in my group (from Canada) all led organisations trying to develop a clearer employment focus. Previously, they had focused on just providing a place for people with disabilities to come and do activities or make visits to the community. In the 21st Century, this is not good enough.

As expected, we quickly identified our huge common ground of understanding and challenge. One of our many conversations was about the speed of change. We visited two organisations. One had adopted a ten-year transformation timeframe to move from traditional and sheltered options to those based around employment, while the other had transformed their services in less than two years. The service with the longer time frame had made some changes but was still finding itself focusing on today’s (traditional) services and dealing with continual resistance from people using the services, their supporters and especially staff.

The other organisation was far more intentional – it announced that it was going to make the changes, held a series of meetings, produced a timetable, responded to but was not distracted by criticisms and then moved forward. Today some of its harshest critics are its greatest supporters and many talk about the fact that the change (for the better) would not have been achieved if they had tried to please everyone. This organisation now employs very few staff who worked under their previous traditional service model.

To me, it certainly seemed like the more intentional approach worked better. It is important to respond to criticism about change, but you also need to keep momentum. Change is always hard for people, even if they appreciate the change afterwards. Organisations need to change to stay relevant to the people they support.  Change is a fact of life – like taxes and death.  In my view organisations should not wait for the government to make changes. The government is always slower to change than progressive organisations, like us.

David Matthews
Chief Executive

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