Published May 27, 2021
Working with People with Disabilities: Your One-Stop Guide to Careers in the Disability Sector
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Working in disability services, you’ll do work that matters. It’s your chance to make a positive contribution to your community every day. You’ll use your skills and caring nature for good: building relationships, empowering people and strengthening your community. And you’ll work alongside other caring people with strong values and a commitment to helping others.
Besides the meaningful and necessary nature of this work, the personal benefits of working in disability services are many. Flexible, satisfying work that allows for an outstanding work-life balance? That’s just the start.
This sector is pivotal in so many ways, especially now. It’s critical to a fair, accessible, inclusive Australian society and central to our economic recovery after COVID-19. Along with aged care, disability is the fastest growing industries in Australia. According to the government, one in five new jobs come from the disability services sector.
Huge changes in the disability sector
Disability services is undergoing huge changes that reflect the way our society views intellectual and physical disabilities. In our day-to-day lives, the language we use to talk about disability has evolved. For example, we now say a “person with disabilities” rather than a “disabled person”, so that the focus is on the person — not the disability. Public spaces, workplaces and events are increasingly created with accessibility in mind, so that everyone can participate.
And on a systems level, the new national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) aims to give people with disabilities more control and choice in their lives. Recent changes in the scheme have created an astonishing amount of new jobs. As a result, providers of support services are crying out for competent, caring staff.
Quality, caring allied health and support workers in the disability sector are worth their weight in gold. Could you be one of them?
Starting a career in disability is a rewarding and practical choice. But before you jump in with both feet, there are some things you may want to know first, like:
- How do you get into working with people with disabilities?
- What’s the state of the disability sector after COVID-19, the NDIS rollout, and the Royal Commission?
- What does a disability support worker do?
- What qualifications do I need to work in disability?
- What are the pros and cons of a mid-life career change into disability services?
That’s where this resource library can help you. Here, you’ll find clear, honest information for every stage of your journey. Whether you’re indulging your curiosity, considering the pros and cons of a career change, or looking for expert insights on the industry, it’s all here. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started.
1. There’s a wide variety of roles to choose from
Leave your preconceived ideas about working in disability at the door. There’s so much more to this vibrant, diverse sector than meets the eye.
On the client-facing side, and perhaps the most visible, stand disability support workers. They work directly with people with physical or intellectual disabilities. But when you look closer, you’ll notice a range of people working quietly alongside them. Medical, allied health, operations and administrative staff: all support each others’ work in different ways. Each role is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Without one, the system as a whole could not function.
From everyday support to behind-the-scenes operations and management, potential career paths run in many directions and suit many interests. If you’re interested in dipping your toes in, becoming a disability support worker is an excellent starting point. It’s also one of the roles where employers are hit hardest by disability worker shortages.
Types of roles and career paths in the disability sector
In this guide, discover the most meaningful and rewarding career opportunities in the disability sector. Learn about:
- What each role involves
- Salary expectations and progression
- How to get started in each career path
For someone new to the industry, this means lots of options. Your first step might be a part-time job as a carer with a Certificate III. If you’re passionate about the work, you may decide you’d like to try leadership — or you may discover a similar role that excites you. You might even realise you love the healthcare side of things. Wherever your journey takes you, you’ll learn a lot along the way.
2. Working with people with disabilities is equally rewarding across other sectors
Disability work isn’t limited to just disability support services; it also overlaps with many other sectors. Take healthcare and mental health, for example — not to mention social work, community services and education.
There are many crossovers in aged care and disability, with older people commonly facing issues around mobility, sight, hearing, and cognitive functioning. 51% of people over 65 experience some form of disability (50% for men, 52% for women). That number rises to a staggering 79% for people aged 85 and over.
Disability and education
If you’re interested in the overlap between education and disability, working with children with disabilities can be one of the most fulfilling career paths you can take. In this guide, you’ll learn about the crucial role that inclusive educators play in empowering people with disabilities to live better lives. You’ll also learn:
- What disabilities and ‘special needs’ means
- Tips for helping children with learning difficulties
- Pathways you can take into inclusive education
Disability and healthcare
If you’re interested in becoming a healthcare worker in disability, consider allied health or nursing. On the one hand, registered nurses are Australia’s highest-demand job post-COVID and are integral to both the aged care and disability care sectors. And on the other hand, there’s a massive shortage of allied health professionals in the disability sector. Both avenues give you the chance to make a huge difference.
3. You probably already have most of the skills you need to be a great disability support worker
What does this work demand of you? Chances are, you’ve got a lot more to offer than you think. Employers emphasise that your transferable skills will set you up for disability support work. If you have experience with customer service, caring roles in other sectors like aged care or child care, hospitality or travel and tourism, you might already be most of the way there!
Essential skills for disability support workers
If you’ve been thinking about getting into disability support work, you might be wondering if you’re cut out for the job. In this article, you’ll learn:
- The four most essential skills and traits you’ll need
- The medical and social models of disability
- How to build on your innate qualities to be an incredible support worker
4. Your work will have a positive impact on a sector in flux
Recently, waves of change have rocked the disability sector. From the newly implemented NDIS to the mass disruption caused by COVID-19, things have certainly not been easy.
One of the flow-on effects is that the demand for disability support workers is skyrocketing. Disability support workers are now the second most in-demand occupation post-COVID. Some estimate that to keep up, the workforce will need to double in size, with disability work accounting for one in every five new jobs created.
For this reason, the Australian government has placed disability services on the Priority Skills List. As a result, plenty of government-funded courses are available in Disability Support, which may mean that you can take a Certificate IV in Disability for very cheap — or even for free. (This will depend on your state’s funding scheme and eligibility). For further information, consult your state’s list of course funding.
Though the sector is facing some challenges, things have come a long way. Insider commentators say that, compared to five years ago, people have far more individual choice. Others have reflected on the power of technology to increase ease of access to services, such as booking medical appointments or interpreters.
Some predict that technology will make things dramatically more straightforward and streamlined in the next five years, with less admin and more time for what matters: people.
The state of the disability sector, and what needs to change
While systemic, top-down change is undoubtedly needed, the sector equally needs capable support workers with caring hearts and a desire to empower others. And with 120,000 jobs to fill, the industry desperately needs people like you to step up and make a difference. Read more to find out how.
5. Changing careers? In disability care, being older is an asset
A career change at any age is a nerve-wracking decision. And as you hit mid-life, it’s common to feel like it’s too late to start something new. But when it comes to disability care work, nothing could be farther from the truth.
How you can make a difference with your career change
People with rich life experience and a genuine interest in giving back to the community make invaluable support workers. If you’re over 40, being older can be a true asset when starting afresh — whether you’re after a part-time job or a full-time career. In this article, you’ll learn about the opportunities open to you in the disability sector and why the most valuable thing you can bring to the industry is yourself.
Working in disability offers so many worthy opportunities to be part of the change. If living your values through your work, strengthening your community and improving people’s lives appeals to you, then you’re exactly what the disability services sector needs.
How much do disability support workers get paid?
What jobs can you do in disability?
- Disability support workers provide personal care services, emotional support, and help clients with everyday living and quality of life.
- Social workers work collaboratively with individuals, groups and communities to address issues around the rights of people with disabilities and to improve human wellbeing.
- Employment consultants help with coordinating opportunities and finding work for clients within Disability Employment Services (DES),
- Transport and facilities workers help with driving, getting around, and day-to-day activities.
- Healthcare workers, including nurses and allied health professionals, work together to look after clients health and wellbeing.
- Education workers like special needs teachers, education assistants and aides help young people with developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, health conditions or mental illness navigate the education system.
- Managers bring business savvy and values together to lead an organisation.
- Administrators use their organisational skills to ensure everything runs smoothly.
How do I start a disability career?
The best way to start a disability career is with the right training for the role you want.
Disability carers aren’t required to hold formal qualifications, but they are looked upon favourably by employers. Getting a Certificate IV in Disability is often heavily subsidised because of worker shortages, so it may not cost you much (or anything at all). Then, when you get your first job, you’ll be far better equipped and be able to provide better services to the people you’re helping.
If you wish to become an allied health worker, you can complete the Certificate III in Allied Health to get started as an assistant. You may then wish to undertake further study, and become an allied health specialist.
If you’d like to become a nurse in disability services, you’ll need to complete either a Diploma of Nursing or a Bachelor of Nursing, depending on whether you want to become a registered or enrolled nurse.
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