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Direct employment: by and for people with disabilities

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Direct Employment has just been formally introduced in Victoria, Australia. I was on the initial pilot program. This is a key reform with the Disability Services that many Individual Support Package (ISP) users should consider due to its numerous benefits. It is a person-centred approach to disability, being more positive in allowing one to contribute to the community, enhancing community inclusion.

For example, Cindy is a 46 year old lady with a severe intellectual disability. She is is helped through Direct Employment which is carried out by family members. As a result Cindy lives a more inclusive life. She is supported by three workers whose rosters, pay, training and other work conditions are managed by the O'Loughlin family, with sister-in-law Christine and brother Darren managing the accounts and finances. Cindy and her mother Lesley take responsibility the recruitment, training and day-to-day management of Cindy's workers. Thanks to Direct Employment, Cindy is receiving the support she needs, is happier and is living as an individual in the community the way she chooses to live. Cindy's family are the professionals involved in her support,

Direct Payments cuts out any financial middlemen, with the financial costs and messy paperwork that has been associated with disability support. It allows more control over how money from the state government's Disability Services (DHS) money is spent. It places it directly into the hands of the disability support users.


Direct Employment takes Direct Payments further, by allowing the person with disabilities, family or Trustee to be an employer and administrator of his/her own support workers (disability supports). The Department of Human Services has defined direct employment in these terms:

where a person has an Individual Support Package that is administered through direct payments and they and/or their nominated person(s) will directly employ support worker(s) using some or all of their funding.

Individual Support Packages are funds from Disability Services that allow a person to meet the disability support requirements. Direct employment is one of choices with a self directed approach of funding administration available to people with disabilities.

Previously, a person with disabilities, the person's family or trustee, if accepted, was able to apply for an Australian Business Number and, according to the rules of Direct Employment, could initiate the man agement and employment of their own disability support. However, for the 2012 statewide implementation, direct employers are not allowed to set up as a business due to changes in the rules of the Australian Taxation Office. This is because Individual Support funding will be treated as income for the business and attract tax which will reduce the amount of funding available to purchase supports. People who have an Individual Support Package and are using direct payments can apply for employment by contacting their local departmental office directly or they can apply for direct employment at the next planned review of their Individual Support Package.

Direct employment gives the flexibility in the choice of support workers, negotiation of salary, hours and work that needs to be undertaken. As hours of duty and pay rates become more flexible, this is more attractive to support workers as well. As a Direct Employer, you'll need to be familiar with a range of things, such as WorkCover and taxation laws. This can be complicated and may mean that you need to ensure you comply with legal, financial and human resource obligations as well as maintaining records about your employees.

Therefore, a large amount of money is put into the training of disability professionals. But there is little credit given to the ability of people with disabilities, who often act in management roles, for the day-to-day management of their home-based support workers or the management of disability professionals.


Direct Employment practices the belief that the people being supported are, more often than not, the best teachers regarding the support they need and how it can be delivered.

Direct Employment is to ensure that financial control of the supports being used is in the hands of person with disabilities, or the person's family or a trustee. They will have far less overhead costs and can look at increasing workplace morale by increasing wages and/or increasing the hours of work that are available. Disability Services will be asking people with disabilities, family or trustees, to take on these roles, sharing their know-how and experience when it comes to disability supports – this is something that usually takes a disability professional many years to achieve through training.

On the other hand, disability service provision is mostly made up of providers who have worked in 'not for profit' agencies. The 'not for profit' sector is supposedly made up of businesses that do not need to make a profit. That is, the 'not for profit' sector does not have to worry about meeting the demands of shareholders, those who invest in a business and anticipate receiving a dividend from the company's profits.

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This article is adapted from a keynote speech Peter Gibilisco gave at the Direct Support Professionals Conference at the University of Sydney. He also wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Bruce Wearne, Professor Frank Stilwell and Amanda Gunawardena.

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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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