In the 1980s, the late Kevin Byrne AM, together with a group of like-minded disability rights advocates with severe physical disabilities, campaigned for the right to manage their own disability funding packages. At that time, service providers managed all the funding and recipients had little say in how the funding was used.
The federal government accepted the campaign in their favour and invited 24 people with disabilities to participate in a two-year pilot program. In this pilot program, participants were given the choice and control over their funding packages by becoming registered employers, allowing the participants to determine their care support and hire the right attendant care support workers.
The model was the first of its kind in the disability sector and served as a proof of concept for what was eventually to become the NDIS. The pilot was a success and led to the creation of a not-for-profit member-based disability service organisation called Allowance Inc (now Living My Way) in June 1992.
Since 1992 Living My Way (previously Allowance Inc) has refined this unique model whereby its Members are supported to become the registered employer of their own Support Workers. The recruitment process, onboarding and payroll are handled by Living My Way, but Members take care of rostering and day-to-day management of their care.
In 2013, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was announced with similar principles of choice, control and self-direction, and was rolled out in 2016.
“Being an employer is more demanding now than ever, but the model allies so very closely with the scheme’s concept of choice and control for people with disability. About 70 of our 430 clients continue to use the original model and employ their own Support Workers,” says Living My Way CEO Mark Turley.
Today, Living My Way services Members across New South Wales, with a few Members in other states, and offers Support Workers, Support Coordination and Plan Management. The organisation also has in-house Occupational Therapists who assess Members’ needs, including assessments for the use of assistive technologies that may help Members to go on living their daily lives.
Recently, a Living My Way Occupational Therapist helped talented artist, Andrew Grant, secure funding for mechanical arm support after Muscular Dystrophy, diagnosed when he was 28, caused his strength and mobility to decline. “The first time I put the device on, I could reach up and scratch my nose, and I just laughed. I can’t believe I had missed out on something so simple,” he said.
The arm support takes away the element of gravity, and Andrew is not only painting, but many everyday tasks are again possible.
Like many employers in the disability sector, Living My Way is always looking for skilled and compassionate staff. “They need to be empathetic and have a passion for care and helping people,” says Turley.
In June 2022, Living My Way turns 30 and is celebrating with various initiatives, including the establishment of a foundation that can fund further research in the sector and offer grant opportunities. A Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) is also underway to respond to the needs of people with disabilities who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and a Member Advisory Committee is being set up to ensure that Member voices are heard in the organisation’s decision making processes.
Most recently, Living My Way has commenced a partnership with i-care, helping to develop self-management options for participants in the NSW Lifetime Care Scheme for people, who have acquired severe physical or brain injuries as a result of an accident.
“Living My Way counts it a privilege to be involved in the life of our members and we always strive to provide the best possible care,” Turley says. “People with disabilities want to live their best life, making their own decisions and enjoying independence and freedom. ”