Mutually beneficial partnerships between people with disabilities and support workers can play a fundamental role in the positive nurturing of life chances for people with disabilities, writes author and disability researcher Dr Peter Gibilisco.
Can mutually beneficial partnerships be the key to better future? Let me explain, why I believe mutually beneficial partnerships between people with disabilities and support workers can play a fundamental role in the positive nurture of life chances for people with disabilities.
For some time I have been pondering the question of whether disability workforce can find guidance from what I have referred to in some of my writings as the “synergistic” outcomes that result from the interaction of people with disabilities and their support workers. I am convinced that in many instances this is also needed by management, to help them make their contribution in the disability sector.
Consider the dynamics of mutually beneficial partnerships between those employed to nurture the lives of the people they care for. In this relationship, these people, rather than being merely disabled, often emerge as those with many different abilities, abilities that can reciprocally assist the carers in the other (sometimes non-work) responsibilities that they also have. I have been able to help my carers find suitable books and articles in their studies. This is just one example. There are many more.
To exploration, this relationship fully leads us to consider some pragmatic examples of how these people who are being cared for are actually contributing in all manner of ways to a more inclusive society.
The underlying goal of mutually beneficial partnerships is to chart the further education of those directly and indirectly related to disability work. The aim is to identify the pathways that are courteous, mutually beneficial and helpful. The pathway needs to be identified so that by travelling it together, both parties can truly share life together. The potential benefits for developing such mutually beneficial partnerships are substantial.
The flow-on will be to all those in society who are indirectly as well as directly related to disability. For example, there is an unlimited possibility for the transference of abilities and insights which will create a new potential for people with different abilities and support workers in a dynamic, merit-based society.
The synergistic outcomes that can flow from this form of flexible support can be demonstrated through my own (unpaid) work output. Synergy is a term that is popular in most Human Resource Management departments. Simply defined it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, i.e., 1+1=3. In my case the synergistic partnership I experience with my support workers allows me to flourish in my role (http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f7062) as a disability activist. And I’ll presume to leave my support workers to speak up and nail the positive contributions (sometimes I guess not so positive too) that I make to their (non-working) lives.
For example, the synergy that is provided to me through the intervention of flexible disability support provides me with the means to achieve many of my goals in life. This approach to personal care is cohesive and flexible and humane. It allows me to manage the complexities of my life and desires. It helps me to attain my full human potential when and where my bodily abilities are lacking. For example, my progressive illness creates a deterioration of motor skills, and also has left me legally blind which leaves all my physical attributes severely disabled.
However, I am still able to perform research and write articles at a significant rate and not wanting to bang on in my own interest I would say that this “output” is beyond that of many paid workers in the disability sector. Basically my performance is created through the synergy gained mainly through the work of my support workers.
This synergy explains the transformation that takes place in people with such different abilities and support workers, where the mutual benefits that occur will provide for a more proficient and humanly thoughtful disability sector, providing for a more inclusive society. Synergy becomes a fundamentally conscious event, which motivates, transforms and unifies all of life with a concerted and organised combination of such people of different abilities and support workers.
This then, in my view, is the path to unify and enhance the disability sector
Synergy for people with different abilities and support workers is about life chances and the creation of opportunities. Therefore, the essence of synergy is to actively value deference to difference and a must for many people with different abilities.
The Effectiveness of Synergistic Relationships
In this context Synergy for the disability workforce is a way to provide the correct form of guidance for people with different abilities and support workers. To have an inside-out approach is about life chances and the creation of opportunities. Therefore, by initiating an inside-out approach we confront the support workers who sometimes sees him/herself as a person languishing at the lowest, grass roots level who then needs the disability sector for employment. We need to turn this around. In my view, a synergistic approach to the disability sector is not just about better help for the disabled person – it is about raising the status of all involved, and ascribing due respect.
These effective working relationships should be given the respect that is due for their rightful contribution to models of leadership. Why are these highly successful working relationships so often below the radar when it comes to forming social welfare policies for the disabled?
Could it be that these highly efficient working relationships are simply out of sight and out of mind? Is that why they seem to attract such a lowly status when it comes to the common ideas that are assumed to be relevant to making improvements in the disability workforce? Maybe we need to look again at the manuals that are written for workers and develop a distinctively new theory of management. Why not?
The synergistic approach I advocate might best be seen as an “inside out” approach to the management and organisation of the disability workforce. It will demonstrate public confidence in the abilities of the people who are served to exercise control over their own lives.
Let me try and explain this “synergistic” model of work-place leadership in more detail. In order to make sure that this kind of model is flexible enough to allow change, even if complete change does not take place, the aim is to avoid an approach which sees the disabled person as a problem and instead reckon with such a person as a “problem-solver”, just like anyone else, and just like the support worker as well. In this, a “synergistic” model develops a distinctive understanding of societal inclusion.
The Flow-on to Management of Service Providers
The promotion of resident/client involvement in all matters of staff selection/recruitment needs to be looked at, from a pragmatic standpoint, rather than merely remaining satisfied with policies that are captive to a remote theoretical overview. And if we can indeed overcome this problem the flow-on will be to all those in society who are indirectly and directly related to disability.
Resident/client involvement in staff selection/recruitment
In highlighting the need for such a procedure to take place, I am reminded of a motto that should be proclaimed loud and clear across Australia’s disability sector. This motto is about disability. It says this: “nothing about us without us”. Think about it. I am concerned that too many professionals in the disability sector act as if they do not take this to heart.
Why have those who wield power in the disability sector failed to advocate this idea more strongly? We might say the same thing of the pragmatic ideas listed above? Those at work in the disability sector need to find ways to enable themselves to be active advocates of this basic democratic idea.
Many thanks to my good friend Bruce Wearne.
About the author: Dr Peter Gibilisco is an Honoury Fellow University of Melbourne. He was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich’s Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability’s progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.