Free classes to boost disability workers ahead of NDIS shakeup – Sydney Morning Herald

Kirsty Needham
Published: September 6, 2015 – 12:00AM

Larissa Williams says her job is driven by a single motivation: “If I’m not there, who is going to do it?”

Williams works as a teacher’s aide for disabled children, and spends her day in a classroom heading off tantrums at the pass, and assisting with the basics of life, toileting and eating. So children can learn.

“I just like being able to help,” she says.

If the National Disability Insurance Scheme is to complete its roll-out by 2018, NSW will need another 25,000 workers like Williams.

Concerned at a severe shortfall in staff, the Baird government will announce on Sunday it is dropping fees for TAFE courses that train people to work in disability and community services.

Under the $10 million program, courses which had cost up to $5000 for qualifications in Auslan, community services, disability and aged care, and youth work, will become free from next year.

Workers wanting to retrain in disability services will also study free, even if they already hold a previous TAFE qualification.

“The roll out of the NDIS needs a skilled and dedicated workforce, so a priority for the government is ensuring we train students to meet that need,” said Minister for Skills John Barilaro.

Williams has a 10-year-old son with behavioural problems. Raising him inspired her to train in disability care with WEA Hunter, which led to casual work at a specialist school.

“There are a lot of strategies I bring to the classroom. You can sense when they are going to get upset, and you can redirect them,” she says of her students. “The teacher needs someone there to help. It is hard enough to teach.”

The Baird government will also respond to a 10 per cent fall in the number of disabled students enrolled in TAFE, by reversing fee hikes imposed in January.

From next year, disabled students will be able to enrol free in any TAFE course on the Skills List.

The NSW Budget showed 5289 fewer students with disabilities enrolled in TAFE compared to the previous year. Many disabled students had complained they were refused fee exemptions by TAFE institutes under the new market system.

Amanda Mullins has been receiving the disability support pension for an intellectual disability that has been passed down through four generations of her family.

But she hopes volunteer work at an NDIS provider in Charlestown will lead to a traineeship with the respite care program. Studying disability care has widened her horizons.

“I start at 8am. We go out for lunch sometimes, or do some craft at the centre. My disability didn’t affect me doing the course and working. It is good to get out of the house,” says Ms Mullins.

NDIS trials have started in Newcastle and Penrith.

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