On-line Learning Universal Design Applications

Recommended digital application tools for engaging students with disability or learning difficulties.

This article has been written to help Teachers and Education Support facilitators navigate a range of tools and applications to enhance universal design learning for students with disability or those experiencing learning difficulties.

CONTEXT NOTE: For all device considerations and what to use in which environment the facilitator has to have a clear understanding of the SETT principle. SETT = Student first / Environment second / Task to be achieved third / & last comes the Tool itself.  For a further quick overview of this principle please refer to the following video – https://youtu.be/IaOJxX8fbH4

With the SETT model in mind I note that is not possible to cover every situation via the following tools outlined. As such I have spent some time using, assessing, and describing the following applications in terms of the student in broad terms with a special emphasis on environment considerations. 

Disability types: Vision impaired / Dyslexia – reading cognitive load impairments Internet Link: https://www.clarosoftware.com/

Disability types: Hearing impaired / Dyslexia – writing cognitive load impairments Internet Link: https://otter.ai/

Disability types: Hearing impaired / Dyslexia – writing cognitive load impairments Internet Link: https://www.android.com/accessibility/live-transcribe/

Disability types: Hearing impaired / Dyslexia – writing cognitive load impairments Internet Link: https://dictation.io/

Disability types: Hearing impaired / Dyslexia – writing cognitive load impairments Internet Link: https://support.microsoft.com/en-au/help/4042244/windows-10-use-dictation

Disability types: Vision impaired / Dyslexia – reading cognitive load impairments Internet Link: https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/education/products/learning-tools

Disability types: Vision impaired / Dyslexia – reading cognitive load impairments

Internet Link: https://www.naturalreaders.com/ (There are many additional reader and speech tool applications available via desktop browsers – I like the simplicity and ease of use provided by Natural Reader. It largely depends on your browser preference – e.g. for Microsoft Edge I would recommend, ‘Hewizo’ as an option – see additional notes below).

Disability types: Vision impaired / Dyslexia – reading cognitive load impairments Internet Link: https://translate.google.com/

Internet Link: https://evernote.com/

Internet Link: https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/microsoft-365/onenote/digital-note-taking-app

Internet Link: https://spark.adobe.com/

Additional notes:

  • Many of the above applications/tools as mentioned feature language translation settings and may have special use when considering students who have English as a second language. Although there are limitations on language types available. Accuracy also tends to diminish when accessing more remote language types.
  • I am a big fan of Google Chrome and additional add-on tools (extensions) available via the Google Chrome web store. I note that Microsoft also features additional add-on tools via its extensions feature. It is always worth searching and exploring these facilities for additional tools and supports.
  • There is large range of instructional videos available on-line in terms of how to access and use the above tools mentioned – I recommend seeking these out for further information.

Author – Mark COTTEE, National Disability Coordination Officer Program (Region 15)

Version 1, Sept 2020 (Links checked at time of publishing and may change over time).

CALD Key links and resources – as supplied via AMES

On Thursday the 14th May 2020 I sat in on a webinar from AMES Australia on the subject of CALD communities in the context of disability. As part of the webinar they covered a range of topics including the NDIS engagement with CALD communities and need for greater attention to cultural competence from service providers. Example – whilst it was expected that 22% of NDIS clients would be recognised as coming from a  CALD background, in reality that figure currently sits at 7%.

As part of the event AMES has supplied a list of resources and links – special thanks to Tessa Hughes (AMES Australia) and Janet Curtain (Power in Culture and Ethnicity) for sharing their knowledge during the event and for putting together the list of resources. Please note the following as supplied:

 NDIS and Disability Information:
• Eligibility criteria and application process: https://www.ndis.gov.au/applying-access-ndis
• Where to find your NDIS, Local Area Coordinator and Early Childhood Early Intervention office
locations: https://www.ndis.gov.au/contact/locations
• AMPARO Advocacy produced several fact sheets for CALD communities with disability and their
families: http://www.amparo.org.au/factsheets/
• Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health (CEH) Webinars including ‘NDIS & Disability –
Understanding the NDIS, and working across cultures in the disability sector’
https://members.healthliteracytraining.com.au/ (requires free registration).
• ECCV NDIS Readiness Bulletins – Newsletters about NDIS, Ethnicity and & Disability
• ECCV DISABILITY POLICY ISSUES PAPER, ‘It’s Everybody’s Business’ Multicultural Community Perspectives on Disability and the NDIS: https://eccv.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/ECCV-NDIS-Policy-Issues-Paper_final_27062019.pdf
• Centre for Culture Ethnicity and Health (CEH) NDIS glossary (available in various languages):
https://www.ceh.org.au/resource-hub/glossary-of-terms-disability-services-multilingual- resource/

Advocacy and Rights:
• Self Advocacy and Diversity – A model for CALD inclusion by Diversity and Disability Migrant
Resource Centre North West. https://eccv.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/SAnD- final-1.pdf
• List of advocacy services and self-advocacy groups in Victoria:
https://www.valid.org.au/list- victorian-advocacy-organisations
• A brief guide to the Disability Discrimination Act: https://humanrights.gov.au/our-
• NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission – independent agency established to improve the
quality and safety of NDIS supports and services: https://www.ndiscommission.gov.au/
• Feedback and complaints about the NDIS: https://www.ndis.gov.au/contact/feedback-and-
• Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission:

Tips & Tricks Series – TAFE learning productivity tools (Accessibility)

Hello and welcome to my new series of tips and tricks in terms of on-line learning in the VET or TAFE sector. The resource has been designed to highlight some of the key accessibility features now offered by the latest software and hardware developments.

The below link takes you to an on-line platform called ‘Thinglink’. Held within this platform are a series of videos exploring accessibility options very much in the context of ‘Environment’ and embracing universal design learning principles.

The purpose of this resource is to help guide and assist students and teachers working and learning in the TAFE environment and has direct relevance or importance for supporting staff or teachers engaged in advising or assisting students with disability or learning difficulties.

Whilst the origins of this resource came out of other project resource development I have amended it to suit the current context of on-line and distance learning. As such I am still completing some aspects of the platform and given the flexibility of the platform look forward to bringing a range of enhancements and updates over time.

All feedback much appreciated….

NDCO ‘Perspective Matters – Podcast’ (Glenn Mercer)

NDCO ‘Perspective Matters’ Podcast – is back for 2020 with a special interview with Glenn Mercer from Wangaratta.

I first met Glenn late last year at a special information session for business and employing people with disability.  He made some interesting points and definitely thought he was worth a follow up, and indeed it turned out to be the case. During this interview with Glenn we covered a wide range of significant times in his life covering the ups and downs. Whilst I don’t have a full transcript of the interview  I do note the following –

Glenn talks about his early life:

ME: “Did you find that you were treated different when you were young?”

Glenn: “Where do I start, like? I was bullied. Parents were like, don’t play with that kid. I was last picked for basketball. I was actually a great athlete when I was younger and I wanted to go to the little athletics and my parents were told not to bring me back.”

“Basically … I kinda stopped talking to people as well because of the sound of the way I talk… If I wanted to go to say ‘Macca’s’ with a friend I’d give them money and they’d order for me… I would say something and they (people) would mimic how I talk just to embarrass me.”

After school life we talk about Glenn’s transition journey from school to work where we talk about the supports that made the difference to his journey.

Glenn karate trophies

Some of Glenn’s trophies and awards  

Whilst Glenn finds a rewarding work life he is still challenged because of his disability.

 “Your question was why don’t more people employ people with disabilities? Fact is, conflict, people are very judgmental, it’s what the customer thinks…people don’t want to babysit someone with a disability, cause like they feel like if they’re getting paid they can look after themselves.”

ME: “Is it a case that they are just scared?”

Glenn, “Very scared. The first couple of years was the worst. People just always trying to get me fired.

Glenn talks about his work as ambassador for Moebius syndrome and his experience at working at Merriwa, https://merriwa.org.au/going-purple-for-moebius-syndrome-awareness/

“All of a sudden I didn’t feel sorry for myself…All my life I was the only one I knew that had a disability. I never hung out with anyone else that had a disability. Coming here I realised that it’s not just me… I was always thinking to myself ‘why me’ end of the world kind of thing…and then maybe thinking is not all about me.”

“Do you want people to feel sorry for you or for people to believe in you? Everyone deserves a chance. Everyone needs to be believed in.”

Massive big thanks to Merriwa Industries for their kind assistance in making this episode happen.

If you would like to to know more about Glenn and/or Moebius Syndrome make sure to look him up on  Facebook.

Thanks again for your wonderful insights Glenn and I look forward to catching up again soon.

To access the audio recording please follow this link to the NDCO region15  updates webpage:  http://www.ndcovictoria.net.au/region-15#updates

Business Champions of People with Disability

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a local information sessions designed for business and raising their awareness in engaging with people with disability. Coinciding with international day of people with disability it was a very appropriate time to highlight the current situation of where people with disability and business can do better when it comes to economic participation. Big thanks to Renee Leary and her team from La Trobe Community Health (Local Area Coordination) for organising the event. Also thanks to all the attendees which included local business, people with disability, service providers and advocates.

It is no secret that people with disability lag behind the rest of the community when it comes to social and economic participation rates. For the latest figures please head to https://www.and.org.au/pages/disability-statistics.html

What may be more of a secret is the myths versus facts of what employing someone with a disability actually looks like. For a quick summary check out this short video I made https://youtu.be/fJ4-H0xwa7s

Whilst these above areas were covered at the information session my best insight came from Glen, a person with disability working within the supported employment regime of Merriwa Industries. An engaging individual who expressed something that I hadn’t considered prior;  that was that it wasn’t until working with other people with disability that he had a new appreciation for his lot in life. I suspect this perspective change is one of those hidden diversity realities that can have positive impacts for all of us, no matter where we see ourselves. I look forward to meeting up with Glen in 2020 for a podcast to further explore this and many other points he illustrated.

Other key points:

  • The NDIS has not been around for a long time in the scheme of things and we are finally starting to see a focus on the outcomes in terms of economic participation. I highly recommend accessing the participant employment strategy recently published via the NDIS website – https://www.ndis.gov.au/about-us/strategies/participant-employment-strategy
  • This strategy should also be viewed within the context of the Victorian State disability action now calling for submissions. The Victorian Government has invested in supporting the social, economic, and civic participation of people with disability in Victoria through Absolutely everyone: state disability plan 2017-2020. Now due for review I expect that ‘economic participation’ will continue to form a major pillar of that plan.

Lastly – I have put together a quick reference guide for businesses to find advice, tips and information for engaging with people with disability, in terms of customer engagement and employing people with disability. You can access this guide via my UPDATES Page.

Thanks again for everyone’s support in this matter and I look forward to continuing the conversation in 2020.

Mental health month – a business perspective – ‘Work Assist’

Thursday the 24th October I attended a mental health awareness (and action) workshop facilitated by The Personnel Group and Dale Skinner from the Black Dog Institute. Big thanks to Dale for his tireless efforts in this arena the on-going courage to reveal his own lived experienced in such an honest way.

Whilst I wont go through all the things I picked up on during the event there are a couple of key takeaways that I feel the need to share.

First – some of the statistics, and there are a lot of readily available published numbers re the current state of mental health (and mental ill-health).  In this instance Dale pointed out the following in terms of 8/6/65. 8 representing the number of Australians ‘suiciding’ each day. Of those 8, 6 of them are males. Finally 65% of people who suffer from poor mental health do not seek professional help.

I am also reminded of an article I read earlier that day  via ProBono news, ‘Poor mental health in teens skyrockets‘.  Although I also note via another article that initiatives are taken place to try and combat the situation, Helping young people keep in touch with their mental health, via a recent YACVIC blog article. Whilst there may be many reasons for the increase, a lot attributed to social media, one general observation that interests me is the idea that, generally, a lot of us lack close authentic relationships that were much more common in times past. Dale spoke to this in other terms, leveraging from the attributed Mark Twain quote – “Two Most Important days in Your Life: The day you are born and the day you discover why.” Or in other words – finding your sense of purpose. I really related to this having managed my own mental health battles over the years and also engaging in mental health supports for friends and family over time.

Second – Where to find help. If you have access to the internet you will never be short of where to find help. Sometimes the how may be difficult but there are always more and more options available. Here I note a quick link guide that we as NDCO’s have on our state based web service, http://www.ndcovictoria.net.au/mental-illness-resources-and-information. Although I now believe t is time for an update, as at the forum I was made aware of a Job Access program – “Work Assist“. And this is where the business perspective really comes in. The work assist program is  designed to provide assistance and support “to you, the employer, to maintain trained employees who may be experiencing absenteeism or reduced productivity related to an on going issue.” This includes workplace education for co-workers. Please follow the embedded links to find out more about this program.

Big thanks to everyone for organising this event. Please share the links to “Work Assist” in your workplace remembering that the positive impacts we make re good mental health is just not about our co-workers but also our/your/their family and friends.


Disability Employment Services Q n A (A TAFE perspective)

Disability Employment Services and TAFE – Q & A forum.

In September this year (2019) I was invited and attended an ‘Employing Your Ability’ forum at GOTAFE in Shepparton. Primarily the session was there for TAFE students (or any other interested party) wishing to find out a bit more about how the Disability Employment Services (DES) providers help jobseekers find and keep a job. The primary feature of the session was the question and answer panel of which I was a representative. As a follow this article captures the questions asked through the evening and I have answered them as best I can in my role as the NDCO.

What is a disability (covering medical, physical, mental health etc) how many people are affected?

A disability is any continuing condition that restricts everyday activities. The Disability Services Act (1993) defines ‘disability’ as meaning a disability:

  • which is attributable to an intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive, neurological, sensory or physical impairment or a combination of those impairments
  • which is permanent or likely to be permanent
  • which may or may not be of a chronic or episodic nature
  • which results in substantially reduced capacity of the person for communication, social interaction, learning or mobility and a need for continuing support services

Over 4 million people in Australia have some form of disability. That’s 1 in 5 people. The likelihood of living with disability increases with age with 2 in 5 people with disability are 65 years or older. 45% of Australians aged 16–85 years, experience a mental health condition during their lifetime. People aged between 15 and 64 years with disability have both lower participation (53%) and higher unemployment rates (9.4%) than people without disability (83% and 4.9% respectively). (As via the Australian Network on Disability – statistics.)

 What is the eligibility criteria to connect to a Disability Employment Service provider?

Jobseekers are generally eligible for Disability Employment Services (DES) if they:

  • have a disability, injury or health condition
  • are aged at least 14 but have not yet attained the Age Pension qualifying age
  • are at or above the minimum legal working age in their state or territory
  • are an Australian resident or eligible Visa holder
  • are not studying full time * ; and
  • have a valid Employment Services Assessment (ESAt) or Job Capacity Assessment (JCA) recommending DES with a Future Work Capacity of eight or more hours per week; and
  • are not working at or above their assessed work capacity (not applicable for Work Assist Participants and people who receive National Disability Insurance Scheme funding for supported employment, and/or Australian Disability Enterprise participants).

* NOTE there are some exceptions – to see more visit the JobAccess eligibility web page

Do you have a choice which Disability Employment Service provider you use?

Participants can choose their preferred provider when they first enter the program. At their initial Centrelink appointment, DES participants will have an opportunity to review providers in their area, and can choose the provider they feel best meets their needs. Participants are encouraged to review providers in their area on the JobAccess site, ahead of their Centrelink appointment. Participants can change their provider five times, no questions asked, during their time in the program. After these transfers, the participant can still request a transfer but that request will be subject to an assessment. https://www.jobaccess.gov.au/people-with-disability/des-participant-choice

What employment support is available through a Disability Employment Service Provider?

There are three main areas of support –

  • Preparing for work (Employment Assistance) Providers can help a participant get ready for work with resumes, interview skills, career advice, refer to training, work experience and can make direct contact with employers about suitable jobs.
  • Settling in to work (Post Placement Support). When a participant gets a job, the provider will offer support to the participant and their employer (with the participant’s consent) for the first year in employment.
  • Continued assistance (Ongoing Support). Participants can also receive extra support after 26 weeks in a job, where required. This Ongoing Support can continue beyond the first 52 weeks of the placement, for as long as needed.

Refer to https://www.jobaccess.gov.au/people-with-disability/des-services for more information.

Do all Disability Employment Service providers do the same thing and do you work together?

All DES providers are funded from the Australian Federal Government with the same funding guidelines. However, each organisation will have varying strategies and engagement practises in delivering these services on behalf of the government. Previously DES contractors were restricted to certain regions for delivery purposes but that no longer exists. As part of the DES funding model the government uses star ratings to help guide users in making a suitable choice when it comes to ‘who’ to connect with. https://www.employment.gov.au/disability-employment-services-star-ratings. Note that it makes good sense to make local inquiries to see what each organisation delivers – via direct networks or via on-line and printed marketing materials.

Should I disclose my disability?

You have no legal obligation to disclose your disability to your employer, although disclosure may be practical in certain situations. Example: to access support, receive reasonable adjustments or enter targeted programs including workplace modifications as an example from an employer point of view or accessing a DES from an employee point of view.

From the ‘Willing to Work’ report page 192: “The decision to disclose a disability — including when to disclose and to whom, is a deeply personal decision. Individuals reported to the Inquiry feeling fearful of disclosure as this could expose them to stigma, assumptions and discrimination either when looking for work or when in employment.  The fear of discrimination, including fear of being dismissed contributes to people being very hesitant to disclose. The decision not to disclose can contribute to negative employment outcomes if it means a person with disability does not access workplace adjustments”.

Another thing to consider – the method or time of disclosure and some disability types are more evident than others. A good article to read from ‘Eureka Street’ is ‘Deciding to disclose an invisible disability’, published 27 November by Fiona Murphy.

The NDCO program also has a resource available via Western Sydney University – “Disclosure: It’s a Personal Decision” that provides substantial information about options and pathways that people with disabilities can use in disclosing their disability in post-secondary education and employment environments. https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/choosingyourpath

Who are Rights Information and Advocacy Centre (RIAC) and what do they do?

Most regions will have a disability information and or advocacy service. In terms of RIAC…is a not-for-profit organisation that builds the capacity and wellbeing of individuals, families, carers and communities through advocacy and support services. In my area the local information and advocacy services is RDAS. But I note that there are a myriad of support and or advocacy services available through the state (and further afield). Some may be demographically or disability type specific.  I recommend viewing the list of Victorian advocacy organisations provided via the VALiD website to find your most relevant organisation. Accessing these services is usually free and they offer independent advocacy and information to anyone with a disability, to ensure equality of rights and increased integration into the community.

What service does the Disability Liaison Officer provide to students at GOTAFE – mentoring support?

The Disability Liaison Officer is available to discuss with you the range of strategies or services that are available for students with disability. The Disability Liaison Officer will also work with your teachers/lecturers to support them to implement ‘reasonable adjustments’ that are designed to facilitate your active participation in the course of your choice. The DLO can provide teaching staff with advice on:

* How disability affects study*Alternate formats for reference and study material* Adapting assessments to accommodate students’ specific abilities* Alternate / inclusive teaching strategies* Resources and technologies that are available to assist the teaching and learning process.

Further reading – checkout the Victorian NDCO TAFE and University Support guide. http://www.ndcovictoria.net.au/tafe-and-university-support

What is a DAAWS Apprenticeship?  Firstly note that to be eligible for DAAWS you need to be in an apprenticeship and you need to have a recognised disability.

DAAWS = Disabled Australian Apprentice Wage Support…and are payments made to employers who:

  • employ an eligible Australian apprentice with a disability who finds it difficult to get an approved apprenticeship because of his or her disability,
  • currently employ an Australian apprentice who has acquired a disability during his or her apprenticeship and needs help as a result.

Tutorial, interpreter and mentor services are available to eligible Australian Apprentices who require additional assistance with their off-the-job training.

For all things DAAWS visit the Australian Apprenticeships web site under the employer incentives heading; https://www.australianapprenticeships.gov.au/aus-employer-incentives.


The following questions came directly from the audience…

What is the age gap/range of people you do support? Do you only support young adults aged 15 years up? Or adults too up to what age?

Jobseekers are generally eligible for Disability Employment Services (DES) if they:

  • Are aged at least 14 but have not yet attained 65 years of age.
  • Are at or above the minimum legal working age in their state or territory.

Also note the reference to – Eligible School Leavers: full time, final year secondary school students with significant disability or young people transitioning from an eligible state or territory transition to work program or School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES)

Do you provide funding to get experience in a chosen field? E.g Training to drive heavy vehicles.

You should discuss with your DES provider about what funding is available for formal training, licenses or job interview attire. The availability of these investments may depend on what job opportunities are available to you, the specific financial circumstances of your provider, and any funding offered through your state government. Alternatively call the JobAccess line on 1800 464 800 and one of the JobAccess Advisors can look for assistance in your state.

People don’t like to be labelled with disability so how would you support & advocate on their behalf to seek additional help? What kind of support GOTAFE offer?

Most TAFE’s have a range of support staff including a disability liaison officer (DLO). Depending on the type of issue being faced this may determine who is best placed to help resolve the problem. If, after you access support through your Institute of TAFE, you still feel that the matter has not been adequately resolved, you have the right to contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission for advice. Please refer to the above section re advocacy.

Can employers get incentives for putting on someone with a disability?

The Australian Government strongly encourages all employers to consider employing people with disability. There are several programs which may assist employers with any financial cost associated with employing people with disability. Some of the most common areas include;

  • Employment Assistance Fund – provides financial assistance to purchase a range of work related modifications and services for employees with disability.
  • Disabled Australian Apprentice Wage Support – as referenced above.
  • Payroll Tax Exemptions (NSW only)
  • Wage Subsidies – are paid to the employer to assist with covering the cost of paying wages in the first few months of employment of a person with disability.
  • Supported Wage System – Some people with disability are not able to fulfil usual workplace productivity requirements, due to the nature of their disability. The Supported Wage System allows employers to pay less than award wage by matching a person’s productivity with a fair wage.

Is there an eligibility requirement to access disability support at TAFE?

Disclosure does need to occur at some point. For a majority of students this will occur at enrolment. Once identified that student will be contacted by the DLO as to whether they require assistance. If the answer is yes than most TAFE’s will ask for some evidence to support the claim to disability. This is usually not onerous, example, written confirmation from a local GP (Doctor) will suffice.

Do DES provides do any advocacy to break down stigma?

As part of the DES role in building meaningful relationships with employers there is on-going disability awareness and advocacy happening as a natural consequence of this interaction. A majority of DES providers operate as non-for profit organisations and they may well run additional programs or projects that address stigma and promote disability employment outside of the DES/Government funding arrangement.  These will be individualised or special products offered only by certain providers. There are many other organisations operating in this space including government agencies and peak body organisations.

Is there any online information I can access to gain further information around supports.

The Job Access webpage is one of the most comprehensive portals for sourcing information. There are three main information access areas; (1) the person with disability / (2) access for employers / (3) access for service providers.  https://www.jobaccess.gov.au/home

Can DES providers do training with organisation/employer to make sure the environment is safe and accessible?

Yes. Again the level and quality of this type of service will vary from individual agencies. Under the Job Access portal there is an ‘Employer Toolkit’ to help guide employers (or potential employers) through the process. There is also a series of links to assist employers to understand their obligations including ‘health and safety’ via https://www.jobaccess.gov.au/employers/your-rights-and-responsibilities.

Can the Skills and Jobs Centre assist as a first point of call into training and employment if I’m not sure where to start?

Yes. The Skills and Job centres operate from all TAFE’s and are marketed as a ‘One stop shop for anyone seeking to explore tertiary studies, training, and job and career options.’ For detailed or further information visit the Victorian government webpage – http://skillsandjobs.com.au/index.html

What incentives are available for over 30s who have been made redundant and may have disorders that need monitoring by a medical specialist?

There is nothing specific for over 30’s BUT there are specific aged or demographic related incentives in existence designed for employers. For example as listed on the JobSearch webpage: Your business may be able to get up to $10,000 (GST inclusive) when you hire an eligible new employee who is either:

  • 15 – 24 years of age
  • an Indigenous Australian
  • 50 years of age and over

Your business may be able to get up to $6,500 (GST inclusive) when you hire an eligible new employee who is either:

  • 25 – 29 years of age
  • a principal carer parent
  • a person registered with an employment services provider for 12 months or more

Does the DES provider support end after you get a job? Or how long after the job do you stop working with your DES provider?

The answer here is maybe. Services within DES are tailored to the individual needs and circumstances of each participant. As part of the guidelines provided by the department of social services I note the following points regarding provider requirements they should;

  • Provide Post Placement Support while a participant is progressing towards a 26 week, or a 52 week.
  • Once a participant has achieved a 26-week Employment Outcome, initially determine if Post Placement Support is appropriate or if the participant needs Flexible, Moderate or High Ongoing Support, provide services as required and refer the participant to an OSA as soon as possible to verify the participant’s ongoing support needs Employment Outcome.
  • Assess whether the participant is able to be exited as an independent worker once a participant has achieved a 52-week Employment Outcome.

How would someone with a disability get into employment in the disability employment sector?

There are several agencies dedicated to attracting people to work in this industry. I recommend the following:

What linkages exist between the NDIS and DES to encourage and support employment for those living with disability?

There are two main issues that I am prompted to consider in answering this question.

  • There are clearly defined guidelines separating the two programs and what they are allowed to offer in terms of support. Whilst the NDIS provides multiple types of support, DES is specific to finding employment. With the creation of the NDIS there was a deliberate intention to qualify the ‘what and who’ of funding which is best contained in the ‘Principles to Determine the Responsibilities of the NDS and Other Service Systems’
  • However there is one clear link between NDIS and that is in the form of School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) and DES. In short – in NDIS there are specific areas of support best described as ‘Find and Keep a Job’. These can be accessed by young people with disability transitioning out of school. SLES is there to prepare people with disability to access the DES system. For a better understanding of SLES please refer to the NDIA SLES web information. Also not that I have recently written a discussion paper re SLES which you can access here; https://ndcoacrossthedesk.wordpress.com/2019/09/25/understanding-sles-unfrequently-asked-questions/

How do I access RIAC advocacy support services as a carer?

As mentioned there will be a number of options in regards which disability information and advocacy service may be available in your area. But given the specific mention of ‘carer’ in this question I make direct reference to ‘Carers Australia’, the national peak body representing Australia’s unpaid carers, advocating on their behalf to influence policies and services at a national level. It works collaboratively with partners and its member organisations, the Network of state and territory Carers Associations, to deliver a range of essential national carer services.

Is there financial assistance for those wishing to relocate and live in capital cities?

Not that I am aware of that is specific to people with disability or via any DES type program although, in the past, I am aware that some agencies in the ‘Job Active’ system may have afforded some financial assistance to individuals to move if it allows for the take-up of meaningful employment.

As part of the forum attendees heard from both an employer and an employee and their DES experience. In that light –

There are plenty of case studies out there reflecting the role the DES providers do in a person journey to secure employment – I note a small collection via the Disability employment Australia ‘Employment Stories’ webpage:  https://disabilityemployment.org.au/for-people-with-a-disability/stories/ .

I encourage you to also check out the NDCO ‘Create Your Future’ series of videos: https://www.westernsydney.edu.au/getreadyforstudyandwork/resources/ndco_create_your_future_series2 .

Job Access features “Real Life Stories” as part of their webpage has a comprehensive list of videos via https://www.jobaccess.gov.au/stories .


To further read or investigate DES services, obligations and eligibility details please refer to the following document dated July 2018 noting that this program is often amended and all questions answered in this document have been attempted under the current program guidelines which are always subject to change – https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/06_2018/des_user_guide.pdf


Big thanks to Narelle Lowe from GOTAFE (Shepparton) in bringing everyone together for this forum. I very much appreciate the opportunity to contribute and collaborate with my fellow regional services in helping our local communities. Other contibutors to the event include the following service agencies: MEGT, Vecci, CVGT Australia, OCTEC, RIAC, The Personnel Group, Workways, Sureway employment, APM, WDEAworks, atWork Australia and all the team at GOTAFE. A quick reminder that the NDCO has produced a local service map available here – http://www.ndcovictoria.net.au/region-15#directories



NDCO region 15 Northern Victoria

8 October 2019

Understanding SLES – Unfrequently Asked Questions.

In my NDCO role I have had many stakeholders ask me about transition options for students with disability leaving school.  In particular what is School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) and what do I need to know? For the purposes of this discussion I do note the NDIA resources and links currently in existence. Since SLES came into existence (in Victoria primarily as a replacement for the Futures for Young Adults state based funding model), there has been a number of changes and developments of how SLES operates for both the participant and the provider. For the purposes of this article I make reference to the SLES fact sheet v1.3 April 2018. I anticipate that there will be future updated versions. I also make reference to the current NDIS price guide of listed items, 2019/20 version 1.1.

To get a better understanding how this information fits into the current landscape I undertook a series of interviews with a group of local ‘Special School’ students planning to transition out of school at the end of 2019.

In brief, I interviewed 10 students of mixed capability. Through the interview process the following three categories were identified as to where these students fit in regards their likely transition journey;

(1) Capable and has good transition goals and supports, (three students).

(2) Has potential to make a good transition but will need managed supports and greater goal setting intervention, (four students), with an exploration of suitable mainstream options.

(3) Further independent life skills should be the main focus at this time, (three students) where job participation or job capacity limitations are likely to make them SLES ineligible.

As part of this process I also sought feedback from local SLES stakeholders (teachers / NDIA representatives / SLES providers/ other) to answer some of my questions or clarify some of the observations.

The following observations I am still considering and I have articulated them below as a means of coordinating my thoughts on where to next, not only as an NDCO but from an all of community view.

If you have little understanding of SLES please note the fact sheet referenced above – for the purposes of this article I have not covered the base information covered in that document. I have also tried to reference the understandings coming from the interview process in explaining my point of view.

One of the first questions to come about is…

When does SLES become a plan option (how)?

The first thing to point out is that some of the students interviewed (whilst eligible for attendance at a ‘special school’) where still going through the process of NDIS eligibility. For those who had eligibility confirmed and operating from a current plan the question is, ‘how does the transition event get on the radar of both the participant and the Local Area Coordinators (LAC’s)?’

Plan reviews – change of circumstance process or as it triggered internally?

  • The review process can happen a number of ways – either the student or student representative makes contact to have a plan review as per change of circumstances processes (i.e. leaving school). The other likely plan review can come about from the agency – either a scheduled review that times with the school transition event – or – by the LAC knowing or noting the event is happening and triggering the review internally. SLES considerations could also occur by way of coincidence through any other plan review unrelated trigger.

A second immediate question that developed from my inquiries was, who is eligible for SLES or in what context do people consider have SLES included in their plans?

Eligibility; key observations

  • “SLES will remain a reasonable and necessary support available nationally to NDIS participant school leavers”.  Note ‘year 12’ school leavers.
  • Not likely to meet Disability Employment Services (DES) eligibility requirements, (the primary aim for SLES is to build participant capacity to successfully transition to a DES). But they still need to have ‘find and keep a job’ as an intended goal and some capacity to be able to work. (If you are not familiar with the types of support usually offered under SLES please refer to the ‘Finding and Keep a Job’ support category as listed in the pricing guide). There also needs to be some form of Job Functioning Capacity assessment in existence to support this – most people report the use of the DHS/Centrelink process in achieving this.
  • For up to two years maximum duration.

For the students observed in this project – many have already engaged with a DES, and as such are unlikely to be eligible for SLES options at the plan review stage. Further – “…if a provider becomes aware that a commencing SLES participant has also been assessed as eligible to receive DES, that provider must cease drawing on the SLES funds and utilise the funding available in the DES program.” Out of the ten students interviewed there was around four (the middle cohort) eligible for or could benefit from exploring where SLES fits in for the next plan review session.

Mainstream versus SLES – noting the existence of the ‘Principles to Determine the Responsibilities of the NDIS and other Service Systems’ document. (What is funded by NDIA and what isn’t?).  Should this actually read – ‘Mainstream &/OR SLES’? As long as I have SLES eligibility could I actually use that funding to augment experiences undertaken concurrently via a mainstream service.

Before I continue I also need to highlight a particular feature of the NDIS when it comes to how people manage their plans. In short – there are three options; self-managed / third party (plan nominee) managed / agency managed. If you are self-managed or third party managed you have an additional flexibility to engage services that are not necessarily registered as a provider with the NDIA. (Unregistered Providers). In effect this gives the user more choice and control depending on the local markets.

Another thing to note is that there are a lack of providers registered to provide SLES in my region. I am not sure that this a systematic issue across most regions or more region specific. There has also been historical changes around SLES delivery – previously NDIS service providers had to be SLES registered specific and there was a functioning capacity assessment managed by school staff. These things are slowly being amended. For providers for example, SLES delivery is part of the normal eligibility registration requirements and no longer requires ‘specific’ SLES registration. (I note the Provider registration Guide to Suitability July 2018).  The current developing trend is that SLES services – at least locally, are likely to come from a DES (subset program of Transition to Work or TTW), an Australian Disability Enterprises or ADE (noting the specific unit price item 0133 specific for ADE’s), or a local stakeholder that has strong links to youth transitions.

Of the students interviewed and those eligible for SLES, or ideally suited to a SLES type program, the question remains of why or how to choose SLES over other mainstream options. Again I reference the ‘concurrent’ question here of being able to do both.  Please note the below mainstream services of interest regarding skills development; (I have not included social or volunteer type mainstream servicing, which does have some underpinning relevance).

  • TAFE – foundation courses. Includes Certificate I or II (and above) and students receive educational supports via that system and personal supports can be embedded to help support this option.
  • Learn Locals (ACFE type funded) agencies. Foundation or non-accredited training feature highly here.
  • Other specifically local transition programs may be in existence and often contextualised by other individual specifications – i.e. Aboriginality / CALD / disability type e.g. Autism.

Non mainstream but concurrent to NDIA funding options other than SLES may include:

  • ADE, assistance in specialised supported employment levels 1-4, (requires LAC input and direction at planning stage) – still remains a significant option for a lot of families coming out of the special school system. I am still investigating the funding processes for young people with disability engaging ADE’s. Effectiveness of this option will depend on the type of ADE and cultural aspects surrounding the ADE selected including types of work and future development opportunities. (Transitioning out of an ADE to open employment).
  • Day service programs and supports. Most students interviewed will need access to other supports under NDIA – some of which will be delivered by traditional day type service agencies. I mention this as some of the students interviewed had specific anxiety issues that may inhibit their transition to a mainstream service as identified above – I have seen students in the past receiving assistance from a day service provider and also attending a TAFE foundation course (concurrently or a in mutually beneficial context) that helps with anxiety based transition issues.
  • Transport assistance may be a unit price item of interest as part of the transition process when it comes to getting to or from transition support programs.
  • I also note the existence of ‘Therapeutic supports’ support item number 10_011_0128_5_3 Employment related assessment and counselling, ‘reserved for participants in need of significant support over and above a mainstream employment related service.’
  • I have had some anecdotal reports that a key transition issue for some students is accessing allied health services, in particular those with communication issues. A lot of these service may be delivered in school independent of NDIS and once they leave that environment NEED to recommence the process of allied health assistance, causing delays and disruptions that impact on the transition experience.

In trying to answer the above question I note the following from the SLES fact sheet – “It is expected that work experience in open employment will be offered as a core component and predominant activity of SLES”IF, work experience is a major developmental factor for the student it would be of specific interest to investigate this in terms of what each differing program does in fact offer in terms of work exposure. For instance it may be more relevant for the individual to get that work exposure through an ADE or through a work placement situation via a TAFE course. What is, or where is the particular point of difference coming from in terms of mainstream versus a ‘SLES’ provider?  I have noted that a key consideration to this is not only about what is being offered via each program but also, what is the personal relationship(s) that are going to best engage the person with disability? A good example of this is existence of the Structured Workplace Learning (SWL) program via Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLEN). In Wodonga for example the NELLEN organisation now delivers SLES primarily as a result of the personal relationship established via the SWL program. This allows the individual to continue to work towards their goals within a relationship that has already been developed.  This theory could also be applied to DES personnel already engaged with some of these students.

Other considerations (and opportunities) moving forward:

  • Workplace and community mentoring under an ILC grants process. I note the current existence of the ‘Ticket to Work’ program (NDS managed) and previous student work experience program ‘Work Inspirations’. I also do not discount emerging programs currently happening in localised pockets of the community in very ad hoc contexts. Leading up to the NDIS rollout there were a number of additional ‘pilot’ like projects emerging from local youth/education and disability networks; ‘My Work My Future – Albury Wodonga / ‘Passport to Employment – regional Victoria / ‘Employment Circles of Support’ – DAIS. My point here is that there has always been a problem recognised in regards the transition journey faced by young people with disability. How do we collate the best practise from all programs, pilots and projects and have them operate effectively and efficiently under an ILC process (or other mainstream option)? To see the current progress of such considerations or actions please refer to the NDIS Economic Participation grant recipients released earlier in the year which I have posted to my updates page.
  • The current role of the Regional Employment Champions (REC) as governed by the NDIA. My understanding is that this role is under review. This needs follow up via NDIA directly.
  • The continued ‘Government response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into career advice activities in Victorian Schools’ – note there are already linkages mentioned, “In 2019, students from disadvantaged backgrounds will have the opportunity to gain exposure to a wide variety of industries and career pathways through activities such as mentoring by employers, workplace visits and bringing industry into the classroom.”
  • Context of the State Disability Action Plan – Every Opportunity, Action item 10, Victorian public sector disability employment plan; focused on target of 6% by 2020 & 12 % by 2025. How can these targets be regionalised (or localised) and what other benefits could be developed by engaging in these targets? For example, by having people with disability undertake work experience or work exposure activities within these government agencies there are opportunities to bring greater disability awareness into these organisations cultures.
  • The role of ‘micro business mentoring’ as a way of empowering people with disability to better view alternate ways to economic participation such as owning and running their own businesses.

Where to from here?

At this time I am hoping to use the above observations as way of continuing the conversation with all the relevant stakeholders. One thing in particular to note is that the transitional journey will be very different for each person and they are not necessarily operating in a linear construct with many activities being able to be taken concurrently. This is not going to be a one model fits all approach but… are there better ways to coordinate all the options available. It is also worth mentioning at this point that my observations have taking place in the context of the Victorian state system. How each state enacts the intentions of the NDIS and SLES into each of their own school education systems does need inquiry. This also has particularly relevance in terms of the discussion regarding whether to mainstream or SLES.

The NDIA works on a continuous improvement model and is often in the middle of informal and formal reviews. Currently, I note the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS Inquiry into planning process. The role and breadth of understanding by planners within the process of ‘find and keep a job’ for students with disability leaving school does have relevance when negotiating the local landscape options (mainstream versus SLES). This could also be applied to support coordinators. In essence – how do we make this a clearer process for all the stakeholders involved, in particular the person with disability, and/or their advocate and the transition support staff and agencies?

Further student interviews may be required to further test any assumptions or observations. In particular I have targeted the ‘Special School’ system in this instance but realistically a similar type interview process may need to be conducted with students with disabilities in the mainstream school system and or other variants, e.g. VCAL at TAFE or other flexible school based systems.

Possible catch-up with students that have been interviewed at prescribed milestone dates allowing for long term follow up as a way of measuring what in fact developed for them in terms of the transition experience. I am not aware of whether the NDIA is currently collecting this form of data in any capacity as part of their plan review processes.

As part of this article I would like to thank the many wonderful people who have afforded me their time, advice and expertise around this subject. For privacy reasons I have not identified them specifically but I feel it necessary to acknowledge their inputs.

Please provide feedback and keep the discussion going.

PS: One area of immediate feedback often given – change the name or reference to the funding away from the term SLES!

Pyschosocial Recovery Supports – Mental Health and the NDIS

Last Friday (7 June 2019) I attended a ‘Partners in Recovery’ celebration event in Wodonga thanks to Murray PHN. As an advocate of this model I attended very much interested in where mental health servicing is heading in the context of the NDIS with that particular program coming to an end.

In short, there are three things worth considering:

(1) The introduction of the ‘Partners in Recovery’ project was a game changer for a lot of service providers and their clients, working under a ‘multiple supports’ model with services designed around three key principles;  strengths based, person centred, with a focus on building capacity. Whatever happens moving forward these key principles of support will continue to be delivered through a collaborative and responsive local network of providers.

(2) For those individuals eligible for NDIS and engaged as a participant, they will be serviced via the NDIS regime. In a lot of instances there will be a focus on continuing services and minimising disruption for clients and the services they receive. For an in-depth overview of this process please refer to the NDIS web information: https://www.ndis.gov.au/understanding/how-ndis-works/mental-health-and-ndis

(3) For those individuals not eligible for NDIS the main support option being offered is called – National Psychosocial Supports or NPS. “The NPS will support a range of non-clinical approaches to the build functional capacity of people with severe mental illness at the individual level to help enable personal recovery. The services are designed to help people for whom clinical care is insufficient to help them build capacity for daily living and who would benefit from specialised psychosocial support at certain times.” 

Further – my understanding is that the the rollout of the NPS will be managed via the state governments. Refer to the Department of Health’s ‘The National Psychosocial Support Measure‘ web page for more information.

From a more local point of view and considering the state involvement with the rollout there will be local service options being offered for non NDIS eligible clients funded via the state government funds. These programs will be administered by local Mental Health services in your district.

Big thanks to the organisers and hosts of this event and I look forward to bringing you further updates as they develop in this space … be well.