Supported employment brings quality of life for Cara

Hero Mackay

Guest Blog by Diana and Malcolm Mackay

Parents Diana and Malcolm Mackay say that Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) have always played an important role as a specialist employment provider for people with intellectual disabilities. They’ve also been successful in providing meaningful jobs and other benefits like improved confidence, self-esteem and social engagement.

We have seen this over a period of 22 years while our daughter Cara has worked at Endeavour Foundation in Toowoomba. Together with assistance from other support networks and the financial support available to Disability Support Pensioners such as rental assistance and mobility allowance, ADEs give most supported employees the opportunity to engage in work and enjoy a lifestyle commensurate with their needs and desires.

The ongoing issue related to wage assessment tools (such as BSWAT) has been used by some to give ADEs a poor image, reinforcing the outdated idea that ADEs are sheltered workshops where employees are exploited.

This debate over wage assessment tools seems to have lost sight of the fact that supported employees are in receipt of a Disability Support Pension as their main means of financial support. Cara and almost all of her work colleagues would attest to their satisfaction with their current financial situation.


The reality is that people with an intellectual disability are already very severely limited in employment choices. Many employment opportunities open to people with disabilities are not suitable for those with an intellectual disability. It would seem the Social Enterprise model, although ideologically appealing, struggles to offer meaningful employment options for people with intellectual disability in the digital world of the 21st century.

Small numbers of ADE employees continue to try open employment; however it has been our experience that many are not successful and later return to work at an ADE, as was the case for Cara. The most significant reasons appear to be an inability to perform the work at the level expected by the employer/supervisor; lack of adherence to workplace health & safety guidelines; literacy requirements; and the inability to relate to colleagues, combined with a lack of support to integrate with workmates.

By contrast, ADEs offer longevity of employment that is rarely experienced in open employment, and the opportunity for mentoring and training or upskilling. ADEs can also facilitate the flow of people with intellectual disability coming from other (non-vocational) disability services, or moving on to other models of disability employment like open employment.

ADEs occupy an important place on the continuum of opportunities available, especially in offering meaningful work options.

Supported employment has facilitated a quality of life for Cara that would be significantly different with any other alternative. As a consequence, this also flows through to Cara’s family members, with a greater quality of life and opportunity, beyond those delivered by NDIS implementation.

Most people with an intellectual disability will not form lifelong partnerships or have the opportunity for children and the role of parenting. This means that Cara, like most of her work colleagues, will place greater value on the belonging and relationships that come from a consistent and long-term workplace.

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