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Case study: Kelly – Supported Independent Living Practice Coach

Kelly is a teacher and mentor who enjoys helping disability support workers to create positive change and empowering people with disability to achieve what they want in life.

Kelly is a teacher and mentor who enjoys helping disability support workers to create positive change and empowering people with disability to achieve what they want in life.

Kelly’s interest in disability support work was first sparked by her experience supporting her sister who has an intellectual disability to live independently.

A desire to help others working in disability services to continually improve is what drives Kelly's work. Starting off as a disability support worker, she progressed over six years – first to a position leading the implementation of Supported Independent Living (SIL) at Scope, to eventually became a SIL Practice Coach.

“Changing to the SIL model is a gradual process. I visit houses and observe what’s happening with people with disability and the interactions that go on, sometimes this includes coaching staff to step back to help build stronger independence for the people they support,” Kelly says.

“It’s about supporting them where and when they really need it. People are often surprised at the progress that can come from small changes.”

Kelly enjoys engaging with staff and the people with disability they support to get down to the conversations that will spark change and create a positive momentum within teams.

“Some of our facilities are at different stages on their journey to implementing the Supported Independent Living model. I’ll often visit the same facility several times before organising a staff meeting to give feedback. We have great discussions about what we can do for each person in that home.

“I really enjoy going back into a home after setting some tasks over 12 months and for staff to see the benefit of what they did. When we sit down together and list all the little ways people are participating and becoming more independent, we can really see the areas where they’ve learned new skills,” she says.

Kelly and Julie sitting together

Reflecting on how different her career in disability has been from her expectations, Kelly is eager to challenge some of the common perceptions of support work.

“I used to think of disability support work as meal assistance and bathroom changes but it’s so much more than that. It’s about connecting with people, supporting them to grow, to be out in the community, to advocate for them – helping them achieve what they want in life.”

Kelly notes that the disability sector offers significant training and professional development opportunities.

“After your basic training, there are many opportunities to expand your knowledge and learn new skills in important areas, such as communication, teaching people to use new devices, supporting people with complex behaviours.”

Aside from skills and knowledge, she believes certain bedrock personal qualities are essential for building a successful career in disability support.

“You need to have empathy and you have to be caring. You must be patient and be willing to step back rather than rush to do something for somebody and you must know what it means to empower someone.

“If you’re wondering about disability support work, go and give it a try. Volunteer with an organisation that runs art or exercise groups, or social connection groups. Working with people with disability can lead to a career full of meaning and satisfaction.”

Kelly’s story is one example from the many organisations and individuals dedicated to supporting people with disability in Victoria. Organisations may offer services and work opportunities that differ from those described here.