Lifetime Dedication to Greater Independence
17 March 2014 at 9:27 am
After a career in television, Dr Robin Way made the move to the Not for Profit sector to work in an area that’s close to her heart. Dr Way is this week’s Changemaker.
With a sister born with cerebral palsy, Dr Way has been part of the disability sector for her entire life. In search of answers, her parents started The Spastic Centre of NSW with other parents of children with disabilities. It was the first parent-run organisation in the world and became a world leader in exploring education, therapy, treatment and employment options, including using technology, for people with cerebral palsy.
However, Dr Way didn’t enter the disability sector straight away, she began her career in television, where she met her husband, but moved back into the sector where she worked in community-based organisations focused on ensuring people could living independently in their own homes with support services.
Since then, Dr Way has played a major role in policy development and advocacy for the disability sector in the role of Chair of ACROD NSW (now NDS); a member of the NSW State Committee and the Chair of the NSW Accommodation Committee over a 27-year period for which she received the President’s Award for Honorary services to NDS.
Following 15 years as a Director she was awarded lifetime membership of Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
Dr Way was appointed CEO of Community Connections Australia (CCA) 25 years ago and concentrated on building small business options to support the gap in government funding to support the work of supporting people to increase independence and autonomy.
Dr Way also has a Master of Management and a PhD from UTS for research, which explored the ways in which power relationships constituted disability within the six founding disability organisations in NSW from 1850–1980.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
My sister was born with Cerebral Palsy. The prevailing belief (both medical and social) at that time was that such children were uneducable, would never be able to communicate, walk or contribute to society.
My parents were advised to put her in a home and get on with their lives. In their search for answers, they met 20 to 30 other families facing the same issue who had never met other families facing the same problems and they decided to start their own organisation to address their children’s needs.
On the day that The Spastic Centre of NSW opened its doors for 15 children, they had $58 of working capital to begin their journey which would challenge the prevailing beliefs and attitudes of the time to find causes, treatment and solutions for the ever increasing numbers of desperate families.
They were able to show what can happen when the community understands and responds to a call for justice for some of its most vulnerable members.
The collective power of families challenged the status quo which saw them as victims, turning them into the experts about cerebral palsy worldwide.
I grew up in the midst of this and our lives were constantly intertwined with other families – some of whom lived with us as they got onto their feet.
It was a good childhood full of laughter and friendship and purpose where all the kids were shared and expected to get on with their lives and each other.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
Having grown up in disability, I had no intention of working in it. It took a while to find a pathway.
Indeed I went into television, married a television director , mixed with the likes of Johnny O’Keefe, Paul Hogan, Gordon Chater and had my children.
I was offered a part-time job working with other young mothers who had children with cerebral palsy in an Early Intervention program and went on to work in a range of different disability groupings and organisations.
25 years ago I was offered a role (CEO of what is now Community Connections Australia) to move people out of institutions into the community and have been working with people to increase their independence ever since.
What has been the most challenging part of your work?
It has been a journey of challenge and rewards. Being a part of people moving into their own homes for the first time, of working out their choices and options, of seeing people take charge of their lives is an enormous privilege.
Establishing the Centre for Training and Community Development as a small business to support the gap in our government funding via training and consultancy work was both challenging and rewarding as was establishing another small business to provide the same services we were offering to the wider community long before others copied what we were doing was satisfying.
Finding out how to support people’s growth is challenging as is the frustration of knowing what could happen “if only” most challenging.
Overall most challenging is now has been the establishment of our Jeenee Division. Four years ago we began to explore how we could better utilise our courses for people living with disabilities.
This led us to investigations around why technology and particularly mobile technology has not been incorporated into service delivery and into people’s lives to assist independence and autonomy.
Our premise is that if people are visible and active in the community they become accepted for who they are rather than with an ongoing focus on their differences.
As they gain knowledge and information, choices and options widen within the fabric of society for them. This led us to become a not for profit telco as an MVNO on the Optus network to address this issue.
Jeenee Mobiles now provides Android based smart phones and tablets based on a range of plans and hardware.
As people begin to use the devices, we are seeing the most important things change in their lives.
People catching public transport without staff for the first time, a person without expressive speech buying train tickets using a talking app; people who got lost used the help button on their phone to connect with our 24/7 help centre who could “see” where they were using the GPS in our system.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
We have a great team working with us at CCA. Our Board have always encouraged our ideas – even the bad ones!
Our staff are committed to what we are on about and where we can go into the future. The Jeenee team in particular have taken the organisation into new territory but coupled with our services team are beginning to provide really important technology service options for people living with disabilities, their families, people who are becoming older and anyone requiring support in their homes and in the community.
Favourite saying …
My favourite saying? “Nothing is Impossible.”
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
I have been privileged to be able to look both backwards and forwards. In the changing environment leading to the NDIA I recognise that the not for profit arena is one of the most important social structures that must be preserved and strengthened.
My father saw technology as the means of the future for people living with cerebral palsy.
I am seeing what happens when people are given the means to increase their independence and autonomy.
My greatest challenge is …
Every time that a family experiences the birth of a child with a disability is the start of a life long journey which is multi-generational.
Understanding that and being able to see what is possible now alerts me to what the disability sector – families, people living with disabilities, service providers, and governments can achieve into the future if we act collaboratively and collectively.
The fact of disability brings forth the best and worst in the community.