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Bendigo Advertiser: Disability advocate Alex Reimer says more inclusivity is needed

Alex Reimer (at home in California Gully) thinks society should change around people with disability. Picture by Darren Howe

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Bendigonian Alex Reimer describes herself as “a survivor of abuse and neglect by various support workers”.

“Too often, the wrong people attract work in the caring industry, leaving us more vulnerable to being mistreated,” the 26-year-old says.

“[But] I also consider myself to be speaking to this issue from a place of privilege because I am able to communicate and I have an expansive support network which allows me to advocate for others.”

Royal Commission wraps up

The experiences of thousands of people around the country living with disability – many of whom don’t have a great deal of support – have been collected by the historic Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, which wrapped up a four-year investigation with a final public hearing last week.

The commission’s report – advising what should be done to prevent mistreatment and promote a more inclusive society – is due to be handed to the government at the end of this month.

Ms Reimer, who has cerebral palsy, says more support and more inclusivity is needed in Bendigo, where living with the disease can be isolating due to a lack of awareness and accessibility.

“From stairs into a building to people speaking to my support workers instead of me directly, these things can have an impact on my daily life,” she said, communicating in writing.

“Throughout my life, people have tried to dictate what I could and couldn’t do, which I did my best to politely ignore, but if our environment is not friendly to all, it makes it difficult.”

Nevertheless, the dynamic California Gully resident has pushed through the challenges to move out on her own, publish a collection of prose and poetry and train as a reiki practitioner and “psychic medium”.

“I want to break down the societal belief that disability is something to be fixed,” she says.

The answer is in “making our community more environmentally, socially and mentally inclusive, for instance by educating businesses about how to make their spaces more welcoming.”

Lack of adequate support

According to Jane Morrell, CEO of support service Carer Solutions, which works with Ms Reimer, a lack of adequate support for people with disability is a form of neglect that poses a serious and growing threat to wellbeing.

“There’s a really significant workforce shortage that we’re experiencing around the country, and it’s getting pretty desperate,” she said.

“The workforce needs to grow by 31 per cent – so an additional 83,000 full time workers are needed by June 2024.”

More support workers needed

In the Bendigo area there are about 4300 NDIS participants, Ms Morrell said, and by 2025, approximately 1800 support workers will be needed here.

“Where are these workers going to come from? We really need more innovative solutions, people thinking outside of the square,” Ms Morrell said.

The service she founded 12 years ago “provides a perfect solution to the shortages”, according to Ms Morrell.

“How it works is that people use us to directly employ somebody they already know, someone from within their own networks … and what we do as an organisation is set them up to be a legal employer of that person,” she said.

Ms Reimer, who says it is always a struggle to find adequate support, describes Carer Solutions as “a great organisation”.

In general, there’s a need for “much greater levels of support,” she says.

AUTHOR: Jenny Denton | Photographer Darren Howe

Published Bendigo Advertiser | SEPT 20, 2023 | 

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