Katie Mutch has found a job while living with a disability. Her work involves helping people living with a disability find a job.
The Balmoral woman, 34, lives with cerebral palsy - a muscle condition that deprives her of the ability to speak and move freely.
She is a strong advocate for women with disabilities through Women's Health Grampians.
"I talk to employees to help understand their disabilities," she said.
"(I tell them) treat people as you want to be treated."
She said employers in the Wimmera and Grampians needed to "keep an open mind" when they had the option of hiring people with disabilities.
She said she had experienced prospective employers seeing her disability, rather than her abilities.
"(People with disabilities) have knowledge. They think outside the box," she said.
Ms Mutch is also learning retail and art skills at Beyond Community Inclusion - a shop on Horsham's Firebrace Street employing people with disabilities.
She said every small town needed a store offering like opportunities.
Ms Mutch said she was writing a book on how to treat people with disabilities, motivated by a desire for people to understand what disability is.
She has received National Disability insurance Scheme funding for the past three years, lives in Horsham and is about to move into her own Specialist Disability Accommodation unit.
Erin Kearns, 19, has Down syndrome and has just started work experience with the Centre for Participation's Laneway cafe, off Roberts Avenue in Horsham.
The social enterprise supports migrant women as well as young people with disabilities, providing courses in hospitality so they can ultimately find mainstream employment.
Ms Kearns said she hoped to own her own cafe and be a dance instructor.
"I did work experience at Petstock and Just Better Care while I was at school," she said.
"I like working a lot. I get to see my friends and it's a nice environment."
Ms Kearn's mother, Claudia Moretti, said while the traineeship had been "fantastic" for her daughter, it only took up two days of her week.
"The rest of the week is what we've been trying to fill in, and there are not a lot of other opportunities we've found at this stage," she said.
"Woodbine runs a cafe at the hospital (Rural Northwest Health in Warracknabeal) but there was no travel option - no room on the bus - and I couldn't take her there and back, so the logistics didn't work out for us.
"We're trying to find a hospitality course to go into things a bit more at Erin's pace."
Centre for Participation chief executive Julie Pettett said it was engaging with Horsham Special Development School so people finishing years 11 and 12 could visit each Monday.
'People are going to have to make a decision'
A WIMMERA social enterprise employing people with disabilities will close at the end of November.
West Wimmera Health Service chief executive Ritchie Dodds has announced Snappy Seconds, the Nhill-based second-hand shop it has run since 2000, will cease trading on November 29.
It comes as Woodbine chief executive Bernie O'Connor will chair a meeting with 14 agencies from across Western and Central Victoria in the next few weeks, to discuss how they can continue to provide supported employment following the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Mr Dodds said the enterprise, which has existed since 2000, had difficulty staying financially sustainable since the roll out of the NDIS - a development which has seen more funding go directly to people with disabilities.
"They get to spend it on whatever they wish - and that might be a number of different services," he said.
"What we've seen happen is people use the flexibility they have, and therefore the desire for clients who have participants who want to stay in the one facility the whole time has fallen away - and therefore so, too, is the funding for these enterprises."
Snappy Seconds employs two people with disabilities. Mr Dodds said he was confident the health service could find new roles for them in Nhill.
"We went through a similar process with Olivers' Diner in Nhill recently, and the participants there are now working in Nhill Hospital," he said.
Under the NDIS, the federal government provides funding for services for people under 65 with permanent or significant disabilities. Its staged roll out began in July 2016. National Disability Insurance Agency is the independent body overseeing the roll out.
It funds personal care for people who need support at work due to their disability - such as assistance with personal care or eating meals - and transition-to-work supports such as training relating to travel to and from work. It also funds employment supports for school leavers.
Bernie O'Connor said his Warracknabeal-based organisation continued to provide employment for 26 people because it made enough money elsewhere to subsidise the services. He said the issues that Australian disability enterprises such as his faced in staying financially viable had existed before the NDIS.
"We provide gardening and cleaning services and run a laundromat, and we would lose $120,000 a year between those three businesses," he said. "Part of the problem is there is not enough work around to make it viable in rural and remote areas."
In August, Uniting Wimmera closed its Haven-based vegetable processing facility employing people with disabilities, formerly known as Karkana. Mr O'Connor said the enterprise's closure was "the tip of a large iceberg".
"The new NDIS pricing guide, which will be implemented in February, won't be significantly higher than the standard amount of $16,000 unless you increase the intensity of support," he said.
"When agencies like Woodbine are giving employees 20 to 30 hours of work a week, you might under normal circumstances have one staff member supporting five people with disabilities. Under the new pricing system, depending what comes out of meetings with the local planners, to increase the level of funding you receive, you also have to increase level of staffing.
"It's not just about funding, but there are negotiations before the Fair Work Commission to increase wages paid to people with disabilities. These are altogether reasonable in normal circumstances, but the businesses are failing."
Mr O'Connor said he would seek other agencies' audited financial reports, so they could present the federal government with a wide-reaching view of the difficulties Australian disability enterprises were facing.
"It's getting to the stage where people are going to have to make a decision about whether to continue," he said.
Colin Barnett, chief executive of Horsham-based AXIS employment, said the Federal Department of Social Services had funded disability enterprises to provide supported employment opportunities.
The company has run the AXIS Worx site on Golf Course Road in Horsham since 2010, where employees make packaging, wooden palettes and stakes and sell components of e-waste collected by Wimmera councils.
Mr Barnett said AXIS Worx's financial position had stayed the same since the NDIS roll out. He said it would have more employees by the end of the week, recruiting some of the people affected by Karkana's closure.
"We're going to have 48 employees that aren't likely to be working in open employment anywhere, so it's a really important environment," he said.
"Everyone at an ADE gets paid award wages under what's called a supported wage system, which means their wages are based on their productivity. As an example, an able-bodied person might be able to make a palette in two hours, whereas it might take four hours for a person with a disability - so they'd be paid 50 per cent of the award wage.
"But it's also about the support that we provide. Each department has a supervisor that provides guidance to people on a daily basis, that's the predominant difference to open employment."
An NDIA spokesman said the new pricing framework would give participants greater control over where and how they worked.
"Participants will be able to purchase intensive or frequent on-the-job employment supports using their plan funding and use them in any setting including social enterprises, micro-businesses, open employment, self-employment and in an ADE," he said.
"The NDIA will work with providers over coming weeks and months to help them understand how the new pricing framework will operate.
"If participants have any questions or concerns about these changes, they are encouraged to contact their Local Area Coordinator or Planner."
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