Is this a new era for the disability industry?

March 31, 2020

We don’t know what the near future holds, and we don’t know what the long-term effects will be however, what we do know is that we are facing a lot of uncertainty and each new day brings a whole new set of challenges.

“The disability support industry is feeling the pinch too”

Every workforce industry has been impacted in one way or another from the rapid onset of this worldwide crisis. Sadly, some have been hit harder than others and the disability support industry is certainly feeling the pinch too.

It may only be a temporary thing and in a few months it’s back to business as usual, or it may just change our lives forever. But it could also open the door for new and interesting opportunities. As we have already seen, businesses are adapting their services to meet the needs of their customers and keep themselves afloat.

But what about the disability industry?

With the current pattern of changes, it’s not hard to foresee that things could get worse in the near future with a massive shortfall of experienced support workers. I am already seeing the impact personally, with a rapid decline in workforce availability.

This may be in part due to individuals having to self-isolate or quarantine. However, it seems mostly due to fear as support workers are also risking their health daily by working in very close proximity to those who absolutely depend on receiving 24-hour support. And yet, support workers and clients cannot reliably and predictably get their ‘hands’ on personal protective equipment (PPE), pun intended.

Unlike hospital, medical and aged care facilities, where staff have access to PPE through large wholesale suppliers, support workers and the people they support must supply their own PPE through local shops,supermarkets and pharmacies, and these retail suppliers simply can’t meet the demand for masks, gloves and hand hygiene products.

The other influencing factor of this rapidly reducing industry is that some people with disability are choosing to cancel their support workers. Not necessarily out of fear, but simply because most of their support needs were primarily for community access, and, well, let’s face it,there’s not a whole lot going on right now in terms of social activity in the community.

Whilst physically being in the community is a big no-no these days, and has basically been outlawed, it’s still vital for people’s health and well-being to maintain social connections with friends, family and have some fun too. Thank goodness for social media and modern technology.

Moreover, with Skype, Zoom and other apps, it’s now easier than ever for people to stay connected, from a safe distance of course. And there is a whole bunch of ways we can entertain ourselves in the comfort, and safety, of our own homes. But this may not be so easy for people with disability, and they may still require support in this area.

So, could there be an opportunity here to think outside the box and adapt to the new (hopefully temporary) norms of society? There may certainly be an opportunity for support workers to utilise current technology to continue providing support for people to remain engaged in their community.

However, unfortunately this may not be an option for everyone. On the other side of this wall of uncertainty and constant change,are the people who are completely reliant on 24-hour support. For others, maintaining ritualistic daily routines is essential to their mental and physical health and well-being.  

Every person in the world right now is having to make lifestyle changes and adjust their routines to some degree and others more extensively, but most of us can do that with relative ease, albeit unpleasant at times.

But for others, setting these new routines is not only acomplex task in itself, it requires a multi-disciplinary team of providers to make even somewhat minor changes to a person’s daily routine and ensure they continue to receive the right support to live their daily lives.   

What does the future look like for people with disability and support workers?

I am hearing a lot of people saying that as other industries close their doors or lose their workforce, the disability sector will see an influx of unqualified support workers.

“But it may not be all doom and gloom, there may just be a sliver lining”

Some people may view this as a negative thing, but if I have learned anything over the years, it’s that being a good support workers is more about the person’s attitude, rather than their qualifications and industry experience. I also like to focus on the positive, and I can see a silver lining to this dark and ominous cloud.

Look at it this way, sometimes change is a good thing. It’s out with the old, and in with the new and this is the ideal opportunity for the disability industry, in moving forward, to create a great new workforce of people with fresh minds and no old habits to try and break; a chance to mould them into the ideal support worker.  

It is also a fortuitous opportunity for people with disability to have their voices heard and truly be part of fostering positive changes in the culture of the working relationship between people with disability, their support workers and the organisations who employ them.