Richard Orr - 30th Anniversary Reflections
Richard (AKA Richo), is Australian Inclusion Group’s Chief Operating Officer. He started out with Inclusion WA in 2009, after a chance meeting with Paul who had recently been appointed CEO. It was the beginning of a journey for both of them - one that would shape Inclusion WA into the organisation it is today. We spoke to Richo about his journey, reflecting on his time with Inclusion WA so far.
What’s your background and what led you to this work?
I worked as a casual support worker back in Scotland while I was studying. Whilst I enjoyed the work, I didn’t take it seriously as a long-term career option. I had a very different idea around what success looked like back then to what I do now.
It was my first experience working alongside people with an intellectual disability, and I discovered I was good at it. The people I worked alongside were great but the role I was in didn’t allow me to use my brain very much. We were told what time we were working, who with and what we’d be doing. The organisation I worked for back then appeared to have really low expectations for those we worked alongside - for what they would be able to do and achieve.
I went on to pursue a career in IT and Corporate Banking as I’d planned. My early career gave me the confidence to know I could turn my hand to almost anything if I stuck at it. Over time I began to realise that I had to be passionate about my work in order to be good at it. I took some time off to recalibrate and travelled the world. One conversation with a fellow traveler stuck with me - a Doctor I crossed paths with in Tibet. His advice was;
“Don’t think so much about the sort of work you want to do – think more about the sort of people you want to work with.”
I returned home to Scotland, and quickly planned my escape route from the corporate world. I quit my banking job, took to studying Outdoor Education and commenced work as an Outdoor Instructor. During this time I met my partner. She decided to bring me back to her homeland as a souvenir. I didn’t know what I’d end up doing when I first came here. I was volunteering at Perth City Farm, and during that time I was introduced to Paul. We met for coffee, and not long after I joined Inclusion WA as a Recreation Officer. The organisation was much smaller then. My role was pretty varied and it included I.T. Support, Marketing, Direct Support and Community Development.
In-between two stints of working at Inclusion WA, I worked for the Disability Services Commission. In 2013 Paul brought me back to oversee the one-to-one work with people, and to help the organisation transition to an individually funded service model.
Your return to the organisation was pivotal for Inclusion WA - people often reflect on it as being a transformative period. What happened during this time?
It was a matter of change or don’t exist in the early years. Our organisation had really good values, but we needed to make some changes to the culture. We wanted to provide services that were truly person-centred and met the needs of the people we support. It was a huge paradigm shift - the programs we were running at the time, despite our good intentions, were designed around the priorities of the organisation. Changing the culture required a leap of faith in the loss of control.
Individualised funding was a mechanism that allowed us to do this. We had to work out a way to use the individualised funding model to be as useful as possible in people’s lives – and this wasn’t by dictating the work we were going to do ‘to’ them. A truly person-centred approach meant being open to being useful in a number of different ways. It’s not helpful to meet someone in a crisis and say “we can’t help you with your crisis but we can help you join a cricket club.” The way we worked alongside people had to change. I was determined that the people we support should shape the services we provide – not the organisation.
In the old block-funding model, Inclusion WA were essentially controlled by the various funding bodies. We’d be given a grant that determined who we were and what work we’d do. This model inhibited organisations from being truly useful and person-centred.
Now it’s the people we support that determine who we are, by what their support needs are. The Individualised Funding model means that we are held to account by the people we support. The people we support have essentially designed this organisation.
What do you believe were the key developments that have made Inclusion WA a truly Individualised Service?
Transparency and power. We really started to embody and enact the understanding that “It’s not our money – it’s your money and you pay us to be in your life”. The more vulnerable and isolated a person is the more power a service provider has. The principle is what matters – we work FOR and WITH you – you’re not accessing our service in some passive way. You’re not lucky to be receiving our service – it’s your service and you get to choose whether we play a role in your life or not.
The decentralisation of decision-making and knowledge. We have much more knowledge closer to the people we support now – it sits with our Coordinators and our Mentors. Frontline staff are the most important people in the organisation. They’re the ones making the decisions on how we best support someone.
What happens all too often with Service Providers is that Senior Managers are the ones who make all the big decisions. That doesn’t make sense to me. How can I make a decision on how to best someone I don’t know? That’s why I see our role as recruiting the right people, then supporting and empowering them with what they need. We can’t be useful in the lives of people we support if we don’t trust, respect, and support the people who are supporting these people. It’s about giving away power. If knowledge is power, how do we give that away?
Removing rosters. Another major change happened in 2013 when we removed the centralised rostering system. The realisation was that the typical approach to scheduling support was disempowering for both staff and clients.
If you want to do good support work you need to be a self-starter – using initiative is the key. Telling people when to work, how to work, what to wear, what to do, say and think attracts the wrong types of people. Those who want to use their initiative – the right types of people - feel constrained in that environment and don’t stick around.
Personal Assistants WA. Looking back, this has been one of the highlights of my career - putting Kristy Macnamara in charge of Personal Assistants WA (PAWA). PAWA is all about supporting people with disability to take an increased level of control over their supports and services. It’s about trusting people with disability to make better decisions about their life. Self-determination sits above all else. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the staff they recruited. It’s about walking alongside people while they make good and sometimes not-so-good decisions.
With 30 years past, what’s next as you look into the future?
What’s exciting now is that we have a group structure – Australian Inclusion Group. We intend for our parent entity to be an incubator for great people to do great things, all geared towards social inclusion.
We want to be a learning organisation. We are a group of organisations part of a bigger social movement for change - where diversity is celebrated and being different isn’t wrong. What’s wrong is segregating people on perceived disadvantage or their difference.
People are better together.
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