Jess Kain - 30th Anniversary Reflections
Jess Kain is Inclusion WA’s General Manager. She came to the organisation in 2011 to help establish our Youth Development Services. Over the years Jess has played an important leadership role in shaping what is now called our Individualised Services. She is a strong advocate for Social Justice and has a great ability to ask the right questions at the right time.
What’s been your personal journey with Inclusion WA?
After starting up Youth Connect, I worked in our Recreation Access Program before becoming the Individualised Services Manager in the South hub. I went on maternity leave and returned as the Operations Manager. It was so cool to have the opportunity to get a promotion whilst on maternity leave! I’ve now stepped in to the position of Inclusion WA’s General Manager.
I really love the attitude that has always prevailed at this organisation - which is getting to know the person – their values, strengths, weaknesses, and then figuring out how we can be useful in their life. We don’t label people or categorise them. The fact that they have a disability is generally irrelevant. The fact that they’re excluded by the community is very relevant.
Why the passion for working alongside young people?
Before coming to Inclusion WA I had studied to become a Secondary Teacher and worked with young people in hospitals.
I always believed that being a teenager is a hard enough time for anyone, but especially if you’re being discriminated against or segregated. Any experience you have where you’re included in mainstream community can have a huge impact, and this was a huge focus of Youth Connect. It changes relationships in school, and it has flow on effects – feeling valued builds a person’s self-esteem. One of the things I’m most proud of is the launch of the Youth Disability Advocacy Network.
Young people are sometimes flat out told they won’t have paid work unless it’s a sheltered work environment. They’re told they won’t be able to get married, have a child, travel, etc. These are core human experiences. It’s about raising the bar in terms of the expectations that people with disability can have for their own life – and this needs to start at school. Teenage years are such formative years, and there aren’t high enough expectations put on young people in terms of what they can achieve in their life time.
I advocated for Young People with a disability to be seen first and foremost as young people and included in mainstream youth services. Too often young people were being referred only to disability services and funding was being directed only to parents rather than the young people themselves. This involved presenting at state and national youth conferences, and led to Inclusion WA together with the Youth Advisory Council of WA, starting up the Youth Disability Advocacy Network (YDAN).
While working at Inclusion WA I was lucky enough to become a qualified Youth Worker and win the Minister for Youth’s Most Outstanding Youth Worker Award at the 2013 WA Youth Awards.
Why do you do this work?
I see our work as part of a bigger picture – the human rights of all people.
I believe everyone should be able to design what a good life looks like for them. They would have real choice – not just choices based on what they know, or what the “done thing” is, but real choice. To be able to dream up any ordinary dream about their future – to travel, have a child, pursue a career, get married, own a pet, a home, start their own business or play a sport – regardless of their ability, gender or race. My vision is that in the future that will be available to everybody.
Things are changing, but I feel like it’s a slow burning revolution – not quick enough for my liking. I believe it’s about the general community increasing their knowledge about the rights of people with disability – I often find myself wondering where on earth the outrage is. Until awareness is raised in the broader community, social change won’t happen, and the rights of people with disability won’t be fully realised
The whole community needs to be outraged about the state of affairs – not just the people who are directly impacted. The more visibility disability rights have the better, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme has probably been one of the biggest things to impact this.
In the words of Wolf Wolfensberger - “People receive the services that society think they deserve.”
It’s about changing perceptions - person by person, as well as on a broader scale.
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