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Labour shortage in disability sector

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Thursday, 17 November 2011

There is an evident workforce shortage in the disability sector. The reasons for this, in theory, may be many, but if we are to look at it pragmatically we may soon come to see that this shortage has not been realistically faced. That pragmatic realism is what I wish to encourage with this brief exploration.

This shortage will very soon reach a crisis point and the problem needs to be looked at, and cured, from a pragmatic standpoint, rather than merely remaining satisfied with policies that are captive to a remote theoretical overview. And if we can indeed overcome this person-power shortage the flow-on will be to all those in society who are indirectly and directly related to disability.

I have pondered for some time whether guidance to the disability workforce can be found from what I have referred to in some of my writings as the "synergistic" outcomes that result from the interaction of people with disabilities and their support workers 


These effective working relationships should be given the respect that is their due for their rightful contribution to models of leadership. Why are these highly successful working relationships so often below the radar when it comes to forming social welfare policies for the disabled? Could it be that these highly efficient working relationships are simply out of sight and out of mind. Is that why they seem to attract such a lowly status when it comes to the common ideas that are assumed to be relevant to making improvements in the disability workforce? Maybe we need to look again at the manuals that are written for workers and develop a distinctively new theory of management. Why not?

The synergistic approach I advocate might best be seen as a "bottom up" approach to the management and organisation of the disability workforce. It will demonstrate public confidence in the abilities of the people who are served to exercise control over their own lives.

Let me try and explain this "synergistic" model of work-place leadership in more detail. In order to make sure that this kind of model is flexible enough to allow change, even if complete change does not take place, the aim is to avoid an approach which sees the disabled person as a problem and instead reckon with such a person as a "problem-solver", just like anyone else, and just like the support worker as well. In this a "synergistc" model develops a distinctive understanding of societal inclusion.

This quote is part of what I presented in a speech for an NDS conference in Hobart .

The synergistic outcomes that can flow from this form of flexible support can be demonstrated through my own (unpaid) work output. Synergy is a term that is popular in most Human Resource Management departments, and simply defined it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, i.e., 1+1=3 or in my case the synergistic partnership created between me, the person with my specific abilities and my support worker, allows me to flourish in my role as a disability activist [researching as an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne]. For example, the synergy that is provided to me through the intervention of flexible disability support, provides me with the means to achieve many of my goals in life. This synergistic provision through personal care provides me with a more cohesive and flexible human approach, which is needed to manage the complexities of infinitely varied human behaviours and provides for a sustainable future in relation to my own desires and plans and the same is true for many others as well who have abilities different from mine. This is done through assistance that helps me attain my full human potential whenand where my bodily abilities are lacking. For example, myprogressive illness creates a deterioration of motor skills, which leaves all my physical attributes severely disabled. However, I am still able to perform research and write articles at a significant rate beyond that of many paid workers in the disability sector. Basically my performance is created through the synergy gained mainly through the work of my support worker……

This form of synergy is capable of helping to explain the transformation in people with such different abilities and their support workers. This, therefore, becomes a fundamentally conscious event, which motivates, transforms and unifies all of life with a concerted and organised combination of such people of different abilities with support workers - this then in my view is the path to unify and enhance the disability sector.


In this context Synergy for the disability workforce is a way to provide the correct form of guidance for people with different abilities and support workers. To have a bottom up approach is about life chances and the creation of opportunities. Therefore, by initiating a bottom up approach we confront the support worker who sometimes sees him/herself as a person languishing at the lowest, grass roots level who then needs the disability sector for employment. We need to turn this around. In my view a synergistic approach to the disability sector is not just about better help for the disabled person - it is about raising the status of all involved, and ascribing due respect.

The disability sector should also look favourably at enhancing the talents of such people and encourage them with a future within the disability sector by establishing a workable bottom up approach.

Among the many workers in the disability sector, there are some that offer great support and some that offer inadequate support. As the population of support workers is currently small, it is evident that we need to increase the number of support workers in order to bring about a change and thus meet crisis in the over-stretched workforce. Also, it is quite apparent that we need an inducement to boost and maintain worker morale.

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This idea was taken from an NDS conference in Hobart at which I was presented a paper at:

Thanks to Bruce Wearne for his dedicated assistance

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About the Author

Peter Gibilisco was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability's progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.

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