Ella’s Story

“It has helped her become more resilient and is building on her confidence when dealing with the many types of people she encounters.”

High school students with disability are receiving the support they need to prepare for work and community life as part of an Australian-first project.

The National Disability Insurance Agency’s school-to-work project gives students in Years 10 and above access to 150 hours of support focused on achieving open employment in the community. Engagement director Kerry Stopher said the support was available to about 300 National Disability Insurance Scheme participants in the Perth Hills trial site and another 200 students would be able to access it when the trial site expands from January 1.

“This project comes at the critical juncture between childhood and adulthood when young people are making decisions about their future,” Ms Stopher said.

“Support is also available to students with very significant disability and behaviours of concern who never before thought work was an option,” she said.

The project is delivered through a network of services called Ticket to Work. Each student chooses an employment provider to develop a work preparation plan. The plan includes an in-depth discovery phase where an employment support worker gets to know the student at home, school, leisure and other settings to build a picture of what type of work would be a good match. Based on this plan, the student is supported to find and participate in a part-time job or work experience outside school hours.

“The project is less than a year old and we are already seeing it lead to meaningful work opportunities,” Ms Stopher said.

“Part-time work broadens social networks, develops personal pride and, if well chosen, provides meaningful activity that supports health and wellbeing,” she said.

“Unfortunately, people with disability are often at risk of not being meaningfully engaged. “This project aims to help address that and is a win-win — the student benefits as well as the broader community.”

Ms Stopher said the project was possible because of the strong support and involvement of students and families, National Disability Services, the Department of Education and service providers.

NDS transition to employment project officer Gaelen Williams said the school-to-work project was based on the methodology of a successful overseas approach known as the customised employment approach and discovery process.

“NDS is providing training in this customised employment approach to 22 providers that are part of this project, as well as NDIA and Department of Education staff,” he said.

“It is a new concept here in Australia and we are really happy NDIA has run with it. “We are seeing even more collaboration between provider organisations and some have joined forces to help NDIS participants.”

Department of Education principal advisor on the project Richard Sanders said the NDIA school-to-work project “played a vital role in complementing the work of schools in preparing students for work and life as an adult”.

Leanne Bridges’ daughter Ella, 15, joined the school-to-work project five months ago and has been working one-to-two hours a week at Chatterbox café in Kalamunda.

Ella, who has an intellectual disability, is responsible for tidying the café, doing the dishes and taking out the coffees.

Ms Bridges said Ella has also been learning how to interact with customers.

“It has helped her become more resilient and is building on her confidence when dealing with the many types of people she encounters,” she said.

“Ella expresses pride when she tells people she does work experience at the café and enjoys the praise she receives, which of course gives her more confidence.”

Ms Bridges organised the placement through a friend and the project pays for Ella’s support worker, who picks her up from school and assists, encourages and supports her with her tasks at the café. For Ella, the job comes with some unexpected perks such as taste testing new foods on the menu.

“I like working – it is fun and I make new friends,” Ella said.

Original article by NDIS published in April 2017