Kristy Macnamara - 30th Anniversary Reflections
Kristy Macnamara is the Service Manager of Personal Assistants WA, a new division with Inclusion WA. If there’s one person who has never wavered in the pursuit of having people take control of their services and supports, it’s Kristy. So it stands to reason that she was the perfect person to take charge when Inclusion WA decided to launch its service targeted at supporting people to take further control over their funding.
We asked Kristy, what drew you to do this type of work?
When I was in my teens, I had a number of different interaction with people who had a disability, I remember meeting a dude at a mate’s house who was in a wheel chair and controlled it by using his chin and how he also managed to smoke cigarettes by using a stand attached to his chair as he didn’t have the use of his arms or hands. I recall how he lived a relatively independent life and when I look back at this moment there were no supports hovering near him he was just him doing his thing like the rest of us, hanging out with his mates. Years later naively thinking this is how all people with a disability lived I sought out to work in the disability sector as I wanted to understand how I could be useful and assist people who needed some support.
I commenced working for the Disability Services Commission in 2000 working alongside people living in supported accommodation. I did this for 7 years. Over the 7 years I recognised that the culture of how people were supported was completely different from each accommodation that I entered. In some places people had a voice, it was their home and other times people were disempowered by the ownership placed on them by the staff who worked there. Homeless in the house they paid board and lodging for, as staff treated it as their work place not as a person’s home, no privacy or respect. It was unacceptable. People older than me were treated like children, not being allowed to go out at night but needing to be in their pj’s before night shift staff came on. People’s lives were being dictated by the staff roster and not driven by their needs as an individual- no choice what they ate, when they ate, when they went to bed, who they wanted to have support them. The list goes on…
I recognised early on that as someone who chose to work in the Human Service Sector I had to have very strong values around what good support looked like and I would always coach new staff around the idea of this by saying ‘’If that was me, if that was you, if that was someone you care deeply for in your life such as your mum, dad, sister brother, partner, how would you want to be treated and supported by others? Would you want to have your basic human rights that you take for granted, taken away from you? If no, then why should this happen to our most vulnerable people in our communities.
What impact do you think Inclusion WA has had over the 11 years you’ve been with the organisation?
We’ve grown, changed and reflected the needs of people with disability and the broader community. In our very early days it was about giving a voice to people with disability, and advocating for the right to access recreation and activities. We supported people to move from segregated activities to actual participation in mainstream community groups. We’ve supported people to become involved and included in community volunteering and mainstream employment. We’ve worked with different demographics, including young people and people with mental health issues - all under the social inclusion model.
What are some of the challenges of this work?
I’ve had three different jobs with Inclusion WA - Mentor, Service Coordinator and Service Manager. These are all closely aligned as they hold power and control over decision making. It’s important to understand this, and to shift away from it to ensure we’re not holding ownership over people.
Unfortunately we work in a sector which tends to disempower people who require support. Quite frankly it’s ridiculous – we want to create a culture that supports people’s personal development, not one that makes them dependent on their paid supports.
How do you operate to overcome these challenges?
What do you do when you feel like you’re not being useful in the lives of others? When you have a sense that you’re getting in the way, working against and not for the person because of the way something is structured? We don’t want to be part of the problem, but part of the solution - improving services of people living with disability and mental health complexities. It’s about disorganising the organisation and giving away the power it holds.
We need to continually grow and change to meet the new needs of people living with disability - to have true choice and control over how services are being delivered. Transitioning to an individualised model proved even more important when the National Disability Insurance Scheme was introduced to Western Australia in 2014. It was positive that we had laid down the foundations for this ahead of time.
What are your reflections on transitioning from block-funding to and individualised approach to services?
It took a collective and collaborative approach across the whole organisation from the Board to the frontline staff. We had to reframe what good support looked like to both the people we supported and for the people who worked at Inclusion WA. We had to rethink the structure of where decision making power came from and believed that the best people to make decisions about their own lives and the way they wanted to be supported had to come from the people using the services, their families and the staff who supported them. We had to provide information that would support people to make these decisions.
What are you most proud of and why do you continue to work with Inclusion WA?
It’s because we own up to our imperfections. We know we can always do better and we work towards understanding what we need to do next to be part of the solution and not the problem. We’re moving away from a model of control - of fitting people into programs – and a new way of working which is breaking down the structure, and putting control in the hands of the people using the services. The NDIS has led to a movement of disempowered people rising up, wanting to take control and having a say over how supports are delivered to them. It’s an opportunity for Service Providers to let go of power and control and redefine what good support looks like.
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