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Disability Employment Advocates Welcomed into the Hall of Fame


8 September 2017 at 4:41 pm
Wendy Williams
A pair of leading disability employment advocates have been welcomed into the Disability Employment Australia Hall of Fame which recognises excellence, innovation and long-term commitment to the evolution of disability employment in Australia.


Wendy Williams | 8 September 2017 at 4:41 pm


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Disability Employment Advocates Welcomed into the Hall of Fame
8 September 2017 at 4:41 pm

A pair of leading disability employment advocates have been welcomed into the Disability Employment Australia Hall of Fame which recognises excellence, innovation and long-term commitment to the evolution of disability employment in Australia.

Don Grimes AO and Mick White, were announced on Wednesday as the winners of the accolade which has previously been received by Emeritus Professor Peter Baume AC, Graeme Innes AM and Dr Geoffrey Waghorn.

White, who was the long-term CEO of Western District Employment Access (WDEA), only retiring last year after 27 years with the organisation, told Pro Bono News it was great recognition for the organisation.

“It was a surprise, considering I retired from work about six months ago, to get a phone call from David at DEA to tell me that I had been nominated [which] was wonderful, and then to let me know after that, that I’d been given the award was just wonderful,” White said.

“It’s lovely from a personal perspective but it is a real boost for an organisation like ours that started off as a small rural disability business to get recognition because as everyone knows the CEO doesn’t do it, it’s the employees you’ve got around you that do the good work for our clients so it was a great recognition for our organisation.”

WDEA first commenced in 1989 with just three employees as a service to assist clients with a disability to enter the workforce.

The organisation now operates across 11 major cities and towns and boasts 420 staff members, approximately 90 of whom have a disability.

White said he had witnessed a lot of change during that time.

“I was very lucky that the committee that was set up in the country community down in western Victoria to start the organisation, was very committed to the ideals of people with disabilities being given the opportunity to work in the open workforce and they really granted me a license to just go about how we thought was the best way to achieve the results for those people,” he said.

“Of course a lot of what you do is influenced by government policy and that of course, in that long period of 27 years has changed a lot.

“You think when I started back all those years ago, disability was very hard to get on the front foot and this year here we are with the NDIS coming in right across the country, everyone knows what disability employment is about, and the support of people with a disability now is very high on everyone’s agenda whereas back in 1989 it was not mentioned at all really.”

But he said he was concerned by a growing lack of flexibility to offer individualised services.

“I think at the moment things have changed and there is a tendency to try and move from the employment front to push people back into a more mainstream type of arrangement, and that seems to be the way the government has set up the funding and the programs, and I do worry that there is so much good work that goes on with speciality employment organisations that spend so much time working with the individual that they are losing that flexibility,” he said.

“I’m big on compliance because I think that has to be top notch to make sure people get the services that they should get, but I also don’t like to see it pushed that was that it knocks out innovation and good ideas and that concerns me just a little bit.  

“You’ve got to give agencies and their people that flexibility to give that individual service to people, you can’t just categorise them and say that will work for people with Down Syndrome or that will work with people with mental illness because it doesn’t work like that.”

White said disability employment was very important, but the ideal would be to “do away with disability employment, because people with disability were given all the same opportunities as people in the mainstream”.

“I’ve always said to my staff, the ideal situation is for us is to work ourselves out of a job,” he said.

“That’s the thing which you’ve got to aim for. You’ve got to change people’s attitudes to try to get it that they will accept whoever is right for the job no matter what the circumstances.”


Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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