With pay rates set to rise again for some in the disability workforce, attitudes toward the best ways of working need to rise as well.
This isn’t going to be a blog that has all the answers, nor is it going to have excuses for what’s not working currently. Some of this will apply to support workers, other parts will be easy to talk about in theory. But if nothing else, this blog aims to talk about attitude and where it sits in a disability sector/community that is changing rapidly.
As a client receiving disability support services, some of these thoughts represent over 27-years worth of experience.
The outlook on whether or not attitude is improving through the workforce will vary depending on who you talk to and what their respective interests are. If you talk to many disabled people you’ll find that despite the pay equity settlement, something support workers deserve to a large extent, the quality of the workforce and services on offer aren’t exactly rising at the same rate.
If you talk to some support workers they will feel like their concerns aren’t being heard and that the needs of the clients they serve are given more attention. If you are a paid professional, a very big part of me would say that this is exactly as it should be. You chose to work in this sector, the people needing support didn’t choose to live in it. Some will attempt to place blame back on their own providers, or even more interestingly, some will say that the workforce is becoming too unfair because disabled people and families now hold more of the cards than ever before.
What I’ve noticed is that it’s often the smaller organizations that seem to grasp how to implement the principles behind choice and control in their service delivery and staff conversation. Despite that, these smaller organizations are often even more compromised than their larger, national-based organizations are from a financial and expertise perspective.
Those last two words being key… expertise and perspective. Not financial.
Addressing Bad Attitudes In The Disability Workforce (From A Client’s Perspective)
The success or failure of what new systems are trying to accomplish sit on the workforce to a large degree. Everyone needs to work together to make it better, but the onus needs to be on those getting paid an ever-increasing pay packet to sharpen up on what their actual role is.
I’ve long been a believer that a certain level of a certificate (and subsequent pay standard) that a support worker sits on doesn’t automatically confirm whether they are indeed a good worker or not. Being a good support worker and the requirements of achieving such are both subjective topics, but many would tell you that the best signals of it can be found in attitude.
The discussion of attitude goes far beyond just support workers, it’s sector-wide. The very fundamentals of what system transformation is built on is a shift in attitude. That takes a willingness to learn, to change, and to work together. These aren’t just three big buzz words that look good in policy or service design, they are requirements that if not met will mean that new systems such as Enabling Good Lives will ultimately fail.
The devil is in the detail (and old phrase I know) and many of the shifts in attitude we are talking about take place in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, moment-to-moment interactions between the system and disabled people/families.
The financials mean little to disabled people and families, apart from them receiving funding packages that met their needs.
It is my view that disabled people and families should be aware of what their packages are, how much money is available, and absolutely, all the ways it can be spent whether directly or through a host.
The day-to-day stuff is what matters to disabled people and families, including the nature in which the support is carried out in those moments. It shouldn’t be their concern, worry, or even responsibility to be direct managers of that. If disabled people and families are capable and willing to take on this direct employer, manager, self-funder role then go ahead and do it but at the same time realize how vulnerable a position you could be putting yourself in.
For as much as the disability sector has talked about supporting disabled people through the process of being their own self-managers, it’s also done very little to address what happens when that goes wrong. I know that from first-hand experiences, bad first-hand experiences.
There needs to be some serious attention placed on attitude improvement through action. Leaving people in vulnerable managerial positions is an attitude of neglect. For support workers who have to work together to serve the needs of clients, not being a team player and having a ‘bare minimum’ attitude will lead to you having more and more performance review meetings, and ultimately your employment could be at stake, whether you resign or are terminated.
Think of it from a business perspective. If partners of the business weren’t pulling their weight or delivering on targets set, that partnership wouldn’t last long. The exact same principle should be applied in the disability sector because it is a business for many involved and the very best outcomes should be expected.
If these outcomes are not met, questions need to be asked as to why. A better attitude in the workforce is required, and less responsibility being put on disabled people to help deliver that.
Michael Pulman is a wheelchair-bound journalist, blogger, video producer, and public speaker based in Hamilton, New Zealand.