We know that about one in five Australians have a disability. While most people with disability are no longer ‘shut in’—hidden away in large institutions—many are still ‘shut out’ of buildings, homes, schools, employment, businesses, sports and community groups. People with disability can face barriers to being included in their communities, gaining employment, and accessing information and services. Some people with disability also face multiple and compounding barriers to inclusion, including people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, people from regional and remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, young people, and people identifying as LGBTQIA+.
Over the past five years, non-government organisations providing Ability Links NSW have worked with people with disability, their families and carers, as well as with organisations and other community members to increase opportunities for inclusion. These community development projects have varied from one-off events and small social groups to region-wide efforts to improve access and inclusion in businesses, schools and public precincts.
To showcase what they’ve achieved and share their learnings about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to community development for inclusion, we worked with Linkers to develop the Ability Links NSW Community Development Resource Package. The Package is designed for community organisations and local champions, including people with disability and their families, who have an idea for or want to work to support inclusion of people with disability. It is designed to help those both new and experienced in the field.
Community development is a collaborative and local solution to common issues, owned and driven by the community. It recognises community members as experts in their own lives and is grounded in principles of self-determination, inclusion, collaboration, integrity and sustainability. Ability Links NSW takes an asset-based approach to its community development for inclusion projects, valuing and leveraging the assets and strengths – knowledge, skills, cultures, relationships – of communities and people with disability.
Drawing on interviews and workshops with Linkers across metro, regional and rural NSW, the Package provides information and guidance on:
- what community development is
- guiding principles for this community development for inclusion
- the process of engaging with community to develop a project idea, through planning, managing and sustaining a project
- working with particular population groups and types of organisations, including case stories and top tips
- monitoring, evaluating and reflecting on project outcomes to track progress and inform continuous improvement.
 Department of Social Services. 2012. https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/disability-and-carers/publications-articles/policy-research/shut-out-the-experience-of-people-with-disabilities-and-their-families-in-australia
Photo: St Vincent de Paul Society NSW Inclusion Champions, Andrew and Nick.