Increasing open employment outcomes for people with disabilities

Inclusion Australia staff member, William Ward-Boas reports on his experience at the Disability Employment Australia Conference in Brisbane.

Disability Employment Services (or DES for short) are funded by the Australian Government to help people with disabilities to find work. The DES program presents significant barriers to people with an intellectual disability to open, inclusive and equitable employment. Fewer than 4% of DES participants have an intellectual disability.

A review of DES is taking place as part of government reforms to increase open employment of people with disabilities. This was a big focus at the recent two-day Disability Employment Australia Conference in Brisbane.

William Ward-Boas, Your Service, Your Rights Project Coordinator at Inclusion Australia attended the conference. As a former DES user, William was invited to participate in a panel session, Quality Servicing and Different Perspectives. This was exploring a new approach to measuring quality of service delivery by DES providers, including what quality looks and feels like for people with an intellectual disability.

William with fellow panelists at the DEA Conference 2023 in Brisbane

William was a little worried before the panel session, with over 150 people in attendance at the conference. ‘I was ball of anticipation and nerves from the moment I woke up until I walked on stage.’

However, once on stage, he felt instantly comfortable. He talked about his work on the Your Service, Your Rights project which is about people with an intellectual disability using NDIS services to understand their rights, how to make a complaint, what support there is and how to be involved in their service. He also shared his own experience of being a DES participant earlier in his career.

William had some advice for DES providers, telling the audience ‘I would like providers to not just take a client on for the sake ticking a box, but to really understand the person.’  William also said providers need to ‘really think about what support people need, what is not working and how things can be better.’

Other sessions covered topics such as duty of care, policy updates and the future of disability employment in Australia. ‘Some speakers were really insightful, positive and uplifting,’ said William. ‘However, others came from an ableist point of view and used lots of difficult to understand language.

William was pleasantly surprised by a session run by Jodie Rogers, creator of the TV series ‘Love on the Spectrum.’ ‘Her presentation was well done. As a qualified sexologist and previously disability education, she does not fit squarely into the disability employment space, but I saw that she has a significant and positive impact to make.’

William felt the conference had a bit of a NDIS versus DES provider feel and offered his insights about how this could be improved. ‘With the NDIS being participant focused, and DES being results focused, it would be great to see some overlap between the two. If they coordinated their objectives, they could be a great team and provide great outcomes for people with a disability.’

Outside the conference, William enjoyed his first time in Brisbane. He did some sightseeing with many beautiful landmarks and a walk along the river. His favorite was the Channel 7 Ferris wheel which provided great views of the city.

William taking in the sights in Brisbane with our Senior Policy Manager, Maeve Kennedy

As we shift into the second half of the year, we look forward to seeing how the DES program reform and other review processes – including the NDIS Review and the final report of the Disability Royal Commission – increase opportunities for people with an intellectual disability.

You can read our recent submissions on DES and employment here:

Talking about inclusion with the NDIA

Inclusion Advisors from South Australia share their ideas for being more inclusive for people with an intellectual disability.

Our Towards Inclusive Practice website launched in April 2023 and the response across the country has been fantastic. The website and resources have been shared widely across many government departments and large organisations.

The project aims to share ideas and tips to help governments around Australia do work that is more inclusive and accessible for people with an intellectual disability. It was co-designed in partnership with a national network of people with intellectual disability who were employed as Inclusion Advisors.

Their work has not stopped though, and we were happy to receive this report from our friends at SACID in South Australia about how they have been promoting Towards Inclusive Practice with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). Thank you to Mel Cheung, Towards Inclusive Practice project facilitator at SACID and to SACID Inclusion Advisors Gavin, Jo, Libby and Thomas for your great advocacy on inclusion.

Jo and Libby preparing for their talk to NDIA staff in South Australia

This month Jo, Thomas, Gavin, Libby and I presented to the NDIA about the Towards Inclusive Practice project.

We presented to 2 different groups online on Teams:

  • Jo and Libby presented to over 80 people from the NDIA Australian Compensation Branch.
  • Thomas and Gavin presented to 8 NDIA senior leaders from around the state.

We shared what the TIP project was about – tips on what the government can do to be more accessible and inclusive.

We also gave the NDIA team a sneak peek at 2 short videos from the project, including the Power and Trust films.

It was the first presentation Jo and Libby had done to people in government.

‘I felt honoured and they [the NDIA staff] took on what we said’, said Libby.

The NDIA asked what our final message was and Libby and Jo said ‘Listen to us, we are the boss, disability or no disability!

Gavin and Thomas said that they felt like they were listened to, and the NDIA senior leaders took note of what was said. They asked a lot of good questions.

Thomas and Gavin also shared some of their personal experiences with NDIA and what the NDIA could do better.

Gavin and Thomas said we should talk to more people in government, starting with the councils, and make more connections!

The videos we shared from the project were very powerful and effective. We felt that it strongly sends the message to people in government of what they can do to be more understanding and be more inclusive of people with disability.

We have since done another session with 25 NDIA Directors and Assistant Directors of across the country.

We look forward to sharing more of the resources from the TIP project 😊

Mel Cheung, SACID

To access the full range of free Towards Inclusive Practice resources visit:

What will you do to be more inclusive? image


Have your say about the future of the NDIS as part of an online workshop for families

Family members have a critical role in the lives of people with an intellectual disability. The experience of families will be crucial to shaping the future of the NDIS.

Inclusion Australia is running a series of online workshops as part of the independent review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

These aim to give people with an intellectual disability, families, and other experts an opportunity to have a say in the Review.

Throughout July and August, we will be running online workshops on Zoom with family members.

We specifically seek your insights on the following topics:

☐ ‘Reasonable and necessary’ supports and group services – The NDIS can fund supports considered to be ‘reasonable and necessary’. Sometimes this leads to inconsistent decisions, with people with an intellectual disability asked to use their funding for group services, rather than 1:1 supports.

☐ Home and living – Home and living supports help people to live in their own home or in supported accommodation. Supported Independent Living (SIL) is a support for people who need lots of help at home. Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) are homes especially for people who have very high support needs.

☐ Complex support needs and restrictive practices – People who have complex support needs often need a lot of support to do everyday things. They are also more likely to experience restrictive practices when receiving supports.

☐ Access and planning – This is about applying for the NDIS and the process of NDIS planning meetings.

☐ Supported decision making – This is about people making their own decisions with the right support.

Each workshop will last two hours. Evening options will also be available.

Workshop participants will receive a payment of $140 for taking part.

All information will be deidentified to ensure your identity remains anonymous.

How to register

If you would like to join one of these workshops, please email Emma Bloom, Engagement Officer via [email protected] by Wednesday June 28.

Extra Reading!

Our first submission to the NDIS Review can be found here (more to come soon!)

An Accessible NDIS: learning from people with an intellectual disability about what needs to change.

Our Voice chair Kalena Bos reports back from the DSC NDIS Conference in Sydney

Kalena Bos ahead of her speech at the DSC NDIS Conference

The NDIS is now 10 years old. With the Independent Review of the NDIS underway we are likely to see some significant changes.

DSC’s NDIS Conference took place in Sydney in June. The two-day conference was an opportunity to hear from people who will help shape the future of the NDIS.

Kalena Bos is the current Chair of Inclusion Australia’s Our Voice Committee and an Inclusion Australia board member. She is a member of the Speak out Association of Tasmania.

Kalena represented the intellectual disability community at the conference, presenting on, ‘An Accessible NDIS: Learning from people with an intellectual disability and what needs to change’.

She said one word to sum up the conference would be “fancy”! On the first day Kalena walked into the main room and was shocked by how many people were there. There were over 1,000 people attending in person and online. “I felt like I was going on TV! There was a dressing room, and an area for speakers to wait before going on stage”.

As well as her own experience navigating the NDIS, Kalena was representing the work that Our Voice members have been doing around the country over the past year. This includes asking people with an intellectual disability about the NDIS and what needs to change. “Navigating the NDIS can be hard and stressful. Participants do not feel like they are being heard,” Kalena told us. “Because of these issues, people with an intellectual disability are not getting what they need from their NDIS plans.”

Kalena attended the conference with Maeve Kennedy, Senior Manager of Policy and Projects at Inclusion Australia. They identified things that could be helpful, including:

  • More information about what you can ask to be included in your NDIS plan.
  • Asking the right questions can help individuals meet their needs.
  • Easy Read Guides to make information easier to understand.
  • Easy Read NDIS plans.
  • Making the NDIS call center, website, and portal more accessible.
  • Treating people with a disability just like everybody else.

Kalena was also very interested to hear about the new NDIS Supported Decision Making policy. “Supporting decisions shows respect and understanding.” she told us. “I’m looking forward to finding out what the new policy means for people with disability and how it will work.”

Kalena with Senator Jordan Steele-John

Two other speeches at the conference stood out for Kalena. Senator Jordon Steele-John’s speech about a fair, accessible, and fully funded NDIS resonated with her. She also found Bill Shorten’s speech interesting. He spoke about how the NDIS is changing lives. And that participants can be reassured that the goal is to improve the system and not just save money. Kalena also enjoyed the speeches about quality and safeguarding and the Royal Commission.

This was also Kalena’s first time travelling alone. She told us she enjoyed seeing the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time. This was especially exciting as it was lit up with the Vivid Festival lights.

Kalena was very proud of herself. “I cried after my speech. People came up to me to say congratulations. Mostly from the Council for Intellectual Disability, and I cried even more. But in a way that I was thankful”.

Reflecting on the conference, Kalena said “the NDIS Review is a good chance to fix things and I am looking forward to seeing what happens”.

The Right to Work

Join the conversation about open employment in this free online event by UTS.

People with disability historically have significantly lower rates of workforce participation than people without a disability. People with an intellectual disability face greater barriers to employment than most other people with disability. This increases the chance of people working in Australian Disability Enterprises or ADEs where they can be legally paid as little as $2.67/hour.

The Disability Royal Commission has highlighted exploitation, discrimination and other injustices experienced by people with intellectual disability working in ADEs and supported employment programs. Human rights violations are also experienced in other countries. Japan, for example, also has segregated workplaces and subminimum wages for people with intellectual disability.

People with an intellectual disability have the right to work on an equal basis with others, and to workplaces that are open, inclusive and accessible. Urgent change is needed to ensure fair pay, open employment and realisation of people’s right to work.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) is hosting a free online discussion with advocates and researchers to talk about disability, employment and human rights in Australia.

The event is on Friday June 16 from 11am-12pm, AEST.

They will explore such questions as:

  • What are the experiences of people with an intellectual disability working in supported employment programs?
  • What is wrong with segregated employment and subminimum wages?
  • What advocacy are people with intellectual disability and advocates leading in this area and what changes do they want to see?
  • How are families of people with intellectual disability supporting the calls for transition away from supported employment programs?
  • What are key features of inclusive open employment?
  • What good practice is already happening?
  • What does government need to do?
  • What can employers do?
  • How can the broader community support this transition?

This event will be hosted Dr Linda Steele, Associate Professor at Faculty of Law, Law Health Justice Research Centre and Disability Research Network, and Professor Simon Darcy Faculty of Business and Disability Research Network at UTS.

Their guests will include:

  • Brooke Canham, Policy Officer, Inclusion Australia
  • Sindre Bloch, Manager, More Than Just a Job, Council for Intellectual Disability
  • Jun Takagawa, Professor, Faculty of Contemporary Law, Tokyo Keizai University

To find out more and to register, please visit: People with Intellectual Disability and the Human Right to Work

Easy Read information about this event can be found here: Disability Employment Human Rights Event Final

Making it easier to vote for people with an intellectual disability

In August 2022 the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters had an inquiry into the 2022 Federal Election.

The Committee is a group of politicians who talk about things to do with voting and elections.

One of the things they talked about was how to make it easier for people with disabilities to take part in elections.

Inclusion Australia made a submission to the Committee. We made recommendations about how Australia’s electoral process can be more inclusive and accessible to people with an intellectual disability.  You can read our submission here.

The Committee invited Inclusion Australia to take part a special panel with other advocates in April 2023 to talk more about our submission.

Brooke Canham and Maeve Kennedy from our policy team joined the panel to talk about our recommendations and answer questions.

Brooke took some time to share her thoughts on her experience with the Panel with us …

In April I spoke to a panel of people about the election, with my Manager Maeve.  I told them about how I vote. We also gave them some evidence by Inclusion Australia.

The panel included people from different disability organisations, including AFDO and Blind Citizens Australia. They talked about voting for people who are blind.

I gave an opening statement. This is a 5-minute message where you tell people what you want to say and what needs to change. You answer questions at the end, and there can be multiple questions.

In our statement we told the panel that we want to make sure it is accessible for people with disabilities to vote. We said it is your basic human right and we spoke about the UN Convention that protects people with disabilities.

I told the panel that it is important for me to vote. When I vote I feel like they are hearing other people’s perspectives and hearing from people who have a disability. It shows that we know who we want to win, and we understand about the election and the voting systems.

I can vote by myself, but if I get stuck, I ask my parents for help. I ask Mum after she votes and then she gives me a hand. I do know who I want to vote for, but I sometimes muddle the numbers up.

We also said that it is not good when people put How To Vote cards in our face when they go to vote. I don’t like having those papers thrown at you. That makes me very confused and very overwhelmed. I know it is hard for me and it could be hard for someone else.

We also said there should be more easy read information. There is some online, but it’s hard to find and it should be available in person on the day.

We also think people with an intellectual disability should be able to have more time at the voting stand. People might feel rushed. I have been told to hurry up as there are queues. It overwhelms me and it makes me scared that I’ll mess it up and my vote won’t count.

It would also be good to have someone to support you when you’re voting. We talked about Supported Decision Making with the panel and how that might help some people with voting.

It was good talking about these things with the panel. I was a bit nervous at the start because Maeve’s microphone wasn’t working but it worked in the end.  Some of the words were hard to understand. If there are meetings like this again about different things it would be good to break it down if there’s a person with an intellectual disability. That way I can understand without have to ask others.

I hope that by talking to the panel that there’s a change on how to vote out a better system format for people with disabilities.

Brooke Canham, Policy Officer – May 2023

Budget offers employment hope for people with an intellectual disability and families but concerns remain over NDIS budget targets

There was good news from the Australian Government budget this week with the announcement of funding for a range of measures on supported employment.

Supported employment for people with disability is typically provided in Australian Disability Enterprises, also known as sheltered workshops. Providers can legally pay employees as little as $2.75 per hour under the current system, with many people with an intellectual disability having no pathway to explore open employment.

The Government has now committed $54m over 4 years, which includes:

  • $35m over 3 years to establish a fund for supported employment providers to evolve business models
  • $11.7m over 4 years for a targeted disability employment advocacy service and information program for supported employees
  • $6m for evaluation of existing and new initiatives and trials, including the new Structural Adjustment grants, to build a robust evidence base to inform ongoing policy development
  • $1.1m for research to establish a Disability Employment Centre of Excellence.

People with an intellectual disability are clear that support to access to more employment opportunities is urgently needed. However, many are unclear about their rights and the options open to them.

Together with our state and territory members, Inclusion Australia has worked tirelessly with our community to articulate the complex barriers to employment that people face.

We also worked together to identify practical solutions, grounded in evidence. This work was shared with the Government and the Disability Royal Commission as part of broader conversations on employment.

Catherine McAlpine, CEO of Inclusion Australia said “It’s great to see signs that people with an intellectual disability are being heard by the Government. This investment is an important first step in changing the conversation about employment for people with an intellectual disability.”

“We are particularly pleased to see the $11.7 million investment in advocacy and information services. This much needed support will help people with an intellectual disability and families navigate the complex employment pathways they face. We also hope it will mean that people with an intellectual disability will have more opportunities to be part of the reform process and codesign a way forward with Government,” said Ms McAlpine.

Inclusion Australia also welcomes the announcement of plans to establish the Disability Employment Centre of Excellence.

“There is plenty of evidence about what works for people with an intellectual disability when it comes to finding and keeping a job. Sadly, this evidence is not widely known or used. The Centre of Excellence will be an important first step to bring this knowledge together to help inform future approaches.”

Ms McAlpine said, “we look forward to working closely with the Department of Social Services and the National Disability Insurance Agency to continue this work and make sure people with an intellectual disability have more, properly paid, employment options.”

Concerns remain over NDIS growth targets

Elsewhere in the Budget it was good to see government commitment to the NDIS feature so prominently in the Treasurer’s speech. However, we share the community concern about the proposed limits on growth for the Scheme. The forward estimates suggest the fourth year budget for the NDIS will be tight as the growth targets hit.

Catherine McAlpine noted “The Government’s commitment to the Scheme is important. Funding for the Scheme is an investment in the future. It supports people with disabilities to build their independence and be part of the workforce and the broader community. It also supports families to continue in the workforce.

When the NDIS Review was announced last year, the Government made clear that it would work with the disability community to unpack the challenges and co-design the solutions. We urge the Government to continue on this path to build trust and meet the underlying principles of the scheme.”


Inclusion Australia welcomes release of NDIA Supported Decision Making Policy

New policy sets out framework for people with an intellectual disability to make their own decisions and get the supports they need.  

Inclusion Australia welcomes the release today of the long-awaited NDIA Supported Decision Making policy.  This is an important policy for people with an intellectual disability and their families. It clearly sets out that people have a right to make their own decisions about the NDIS, and to get the supports they need to make decisions.

Inclusion Australia CEO Catherine McAlpine said, “It is fantastic to see the NDIS policy on supported decision making released. Choice and control for people with an intellectual disability was a key goal of the original Scheme design and it’s just as important today.

2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the Scheme so it’s great to see the NDIA committing to supporting participants to make their own decisions about their lives.

Without decision-making support, many people – especially people with an intellectual or other cognitive disability – are not able to live the lives they want or are not aware of the options open to them. This situation risks increasing segregation and reducing inclusion, as NDIA Chair Kurt Fearnley expressed concern about last week.

We hope this policy will be part of changing the conversation so people can explore options with people they trust and make decisions that are right for them,” said Ms McAlpine.  “The next step is for the NDIA to roll out its implementation plan in consultation with people with disability. This will be critical to make sure NDIA staff and community partners understand supported decision making and are consistently implementing it in practice.

Including the experiences of people with intellectual disability

Inclusion Australia worked with the NDIA to make sure the voices of people with an intellectual disability were included in the development of the policy.

Luke Nelson from our Policy Team helped design and co-facilitated workshops with NDIS participants around Australia to find out what people had to say about making decisions.

This included workshops with people from different cultural backgrounds, people with complex communication support needs and First Nations people from remote communities in central Australia.

Luke’s personal experience as a NDIS participant was gave him particular insight into the feedback that was heard. “It was important to have a person with disability in the workshops. People taking part knew that I had experienced similar issues and felt more comfortable talking about their experiences.

With the new policy finally released, Luke reflected “I think this policy will give people with disability a chance to know that supported decision making is a real thing, that it can be delivered, and that the NDIA is willing to work with people with disability to make them feel included.

I hope this policy will bring freedom and choice to people who use decision-making in their lives,” said Luke.


Inclusion Australia Northern Territory opens its new office

The IANT team reflect on a big week together in Darwin.

The IANT team celebrate by cutting a cake with our new logo.

On Tuesday 18th April, we had a party to celebrate the official opening of our Inclusion Australia Northern Territory office.

It went really well and felt very welcoming.

The Welcome to Country from Jeanneen was very meaningful and personal. You could feel it when she talked.

Our CEO Catherine McAlpine talked about what we do at Inclusion Australia. The NT team talked about our work in the Northern Territory.

People enjoyed themselves and were interested in the new office. They asked a lot of questions.

The IANT team – Liz Collier, Daniel Ross, Rebecca Hell and Ben Hankin – together with our CEO Catherine McAlpine and Senior Manager, Maeve Kennedy

On Thursday we met with the Honorable Ngaree Ah Kit, the Minister for Disability in the Northern Territory.

It was nice to have her come to our office and see what we do. We are looking forward to talking with her more in the future about people with an intellectual disability in the Northern Territory.

Minister for Disability, the Honorable Ngaree Ah Kit meets the team. 

We are enjoying working in our office. It’s nice to have our own permanent space to come to and work in.

It’s a good space and a good location. It’s a comfortable and relaxed space. You can feel the relaxation and know that you’re coming to a safe environment when you’re coming to work.

Our door is finally open!

The best thing about the office is the team – we work really well together.

It’s also great to work with teams in other states and know where people are in different projects. It’s unique.

Shorten suite

What do the six priority areas for the NDIS mean for people with an intellectual disability?

This week in Canberra, Bill Shorten – Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme – gave a much-anticipated speech on the future of the NDIS.

Intense media focus on the cost of the NDIS in recent months meant there was a lot of concern about cuts and changes to eligibility going into the speech. Speaking to the National Press Club of Australia, Minister Shorten instead delivered what he called ‘a state of the union’ on the NDIS.

The Minister was clear that “the National Disability Insurance Scheme is here to stay. It is not going away,” adding “but … we need to get it back on track. For the NDIS to reach its potential, it needs a reboot.”

“For the NDIS to reach its potential, it needs a reboot.”

Bill Shorten, Minister for the NDIS, 18 April 2022

Minister Shorten committed to making sure that “every dollar of NDIS funding must go to people with disability,” and outlined six priorities for “correcting course” on the NDIS.

  1. Expanding the NDIA workforce
  2. Increasing use of long-term planning
  3. Addressing spiraling expenses
  4. Better outcomes from Supported Independent Living
  5. Eliminating unethical practices
  6. Increasing community and mainstream supports

In Darwin to open the new Inclusion Australia Northern Territory Office, our CEO Catherine McAlpine spoke with ABC News about the speech and the issues faced by people with an intellectual disability.

The NDIS was founded on the idea of doing things differently” she said. “We do see that, but we still see too many of the old ways of doing things – there are still too many people going into Australian Disability Enterprises (the old ‘sheltered workshops’) and group homes.”

On the proposal to review Supported Independent Living, Ms McAlpine said “People with intellectual disability by far the biggest users of SIL. We agree with the Minister that there is not enough choice for people with disability about their homes. The system delivers poor outcomes for too many people and drives people into institutional settings.”

Asked about the Minister’s commitment to eliminate unethical practice, Ms McAlpine spoke about ‘sharp practices’ used by some service providers who have control over many aspects of people’s lives including “where they live, and who they live with and what they do during the day. That is profit maximisation and inclusion minimisation.

Also watching Minister Shorten’s speech were Brooke Canham and Luke Nelson from our Inclusion Australia Policy Team. Both are NDIS Participants, so watched with interest to hear about the changes.

Talking after the speech, Luke said that Making sure that providers don’t overcharge, and that the participant comes first” was most important to him. Brooke was most interested in the review of Supported Independent Living and “making people in the community get the right support to independent living and letting people choose if they want to be there.”  Read more about what they had to say in this interview. 

As the national representative organisation for people with an intellectual disability and families, Inclusion Australia believes that the more than 100,000 people with an intellectual disability who are part of the scheme must be part of the conversation about the future of the NDIS. To help this we have developed an Easy Read version of the of the Minister’s speech.

We encourage you to share this with people in your networks and share any feedback to the government via the NDIS Review: Have your say | NDIS Review

To watch the Minister’s speech in full, visit:

You can also read the full speech as text here: