Having your say

Chris Morris
Many people with a disability receive services to help them. Sometimes these services could be better. People with a disability are able to talk about ways that services can be improved. There are rules to help ensure people's rights. There are lots of ways you can have a say. You can also get involved with local government. Having a say can help improve council services.
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Chris Morris on 17/06/2011
Two women standing next to a blank whiteboard. One is holding a marker and looks about to write something down.

Listening to people with a disability

Many people need a disability service of some kind. But how can they be sure a service can meet their needs?

There are rules called Standards for Disability Services in Victoria. The rules put people with a disability at the centre of all service planning. They rules say people with a disability should be listened to. It is hoped that organisations can use any feedback to improve their service. Services that do not meet the standards can lose their funding.

Complaints and disputes

One way that disability service users can give feedback to their service is through complaints and disputes. The standards say complaints and disputes should be addressed promptly, fairly and respectfully. It also says people who complain cannot be punished for speaking up.

If you are unhappy with your disability service, tell them. How else will people know that they are not giving you what you need?

The Disability Act 2006 also says people with a disability must be given a say about services. The act says persons with a disability have the same right as other members of the community to ... participate actively in the decisions that affect their lives. If you have a disability, there are many ways to have a say about the things important to you.

Disability service audits

The Victorian Government spends a lot of money on disability services. They want their money used wisely. To make sure the work of service providers is up to standard they are checked regularly. This involves an audit team that includes a person with a disability who has used a disability service. These technical experts have been specially trained. I do this work and love it.

One of my jobs is talking to service users. This is a great opportunity for people to have their say. If the auditors find that a service is not following the standards, the service must improve to keep getting funding.

When auditors come, you should get an invitation to be involved. I suggest that you accept the offer and help make a difference. It is also good to provide positive feedback about things that help your life and are working well.

Helping your service improve

The standards also say that each individual informs the way that supports are provided. This means that as a service user, you can help make your service better. You just need to tell the right people about it. You can tell a staff member of your service that you want to give feedback. Hopefully, the service will see this as a great opportunity.

Some people with a disability might be afraid to criticise their service in case they lose it. They might also worry about getting into trouble. But it is illegal for people to be punished in any way for speaking up.

Involved in local government

People with a disability can also make a local impact. Many councils have disability action plans. These plans describe how people with a disability will have access to council services. The plans also usually talk about how local government should involve people with a disability in their planning. By consulting with people they are less likely to make something inaccessible or unfair.

Your local government should be happy for you to have a say about the things they are doing. Many local governments have groups of people with a disability they can talk to when planning. These have names like disability reference group or disability advisory committee. Sometimes a council will invite people with a disability to come and advise them about their disability action plan. I have done this in the past.

One of the people who came to a feedback session was surprised. I didn't know I could help the council make a good disability action plan, she says. Another says I felt I was being listened to for a change. Their feedback helped produce a plan that is helping people with a disability get better access to council services.

My local group

I live near a large town in regional Victoria. I have been involved with the local disability action group. It is a group of people with a disability who meet and talk about any problems they have living in our local area.

Issues we have discussed include inaccessible footpaths. One or more of the group members will meet with somebody from the council and tell them about the issue. Sometimes several group members will ring up and make a complaint.

The system seems to be working well. The council's rules say they must investigate all complaints. The council's disability action plan also says they have to make sure everyone can travel around the town. This includes wheelchair users or people with mobility issues like myself.

Many problems with the footpaths around town have been fixed now, says group member Elaine. I think that the disability action group has helped us all be more confident about making complaints.

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