To acknowledge the International Day of People with Disability, Peninsula Living Pittwater showcases some of the organisations who help them to join the workforce and businesses that are already making use of their talents.

The independence, friendships and confidence gained from taking that first foray into the world of work is a rite of passage everyone deserves. This month’s International Day of People with Disability aims to kickstart awareness and inclusivity and, in turn, boost employment opportunities for the 4.4 million Australians living with disability.

Shooting for the stars to create a jam-packed social and work life for those with disability – and change the face of traditional support while they are at it – are several Beaches-based organisations, including Newport’s CMCare Disability Support Service. Registered nurse Courtney and partner, Max – the ‘CM’ in the name – are ‘revolutionising’ the historic patient-carer dynamic into a friendship between like-minded, similarly aged support workers and clients, bonded through shared experiences. “I wanted to create amazing opportunities for my sister, Milly, who was born with cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability, so CMCare was born,” Max tells Peninsula Living Pittwater. That promise has been kept, with CMCare now boasting a buzzing social scene – from bowling, to Friday night pub quizzes, surfing and international trips – plus paid employment opportunities at the CMCare Café in Avalon. “We have a passion for building a fresh care model for young adults on the Northern Beaches and innovating disability services while helping our local community,” adds Max.

CMCare founders, Courtney and Max, are revolutionising disability support on the Beaches. Social activities (seen below) are an important part of the program.

Training and employment at the café, where staff are initially supported on a one to three ratio, allows daily engagement with customers, as well as the chance to move onto employment at other local hospitality venues. “The cafe is a place where everyone is encouraged and supported to learn, grow and contribute as part of a team,” Courtney says. “The program begins with familiarisation, progressing through off-site and on- site training, right through to real-world café work and shifts, for which participants are paid.”

While 80 per cent of Australians of working age are employed, just 48 per cent of people with disability can say the same, the Australian Bureau of Statistics finds. On the Beaches, 9,273 people ‘require help’ in their everyday lives, states the Northern Beaches Council’s (NBC) disability inclusion action plan 2022- 2026. The plan spruiks improvements to local life, from increased accessible employment opportunities to a ‘working remotely toolkit’ to overcome physical access barriers. Employment ‘supports people living with disability to have more autonomy over their lives, be financially independent and have a better standard of living,’ says the plan, while ‘increasing mental and physical health and wellbeing’.

In Narrabeen, inclusivity is the name of the game for Guy Morel and his popular local hub, The Mind Café on Pittwater Road, where his purpose has always been ‘more than just great coffee’. Focusing heavily on mental health, well-being and inclusion, Guy aims to make everyone that sits amongst the shelves of books, bright murals and eclectic knick-knacks feel like family. “We have created an amazing safe space in a judgement-free environment and we are really trying to make a difference,” he says. “In our team, we have people with special needs and disabilities and those living with mental health issues,” Guy tells Peninsula Living Pittwater.

The cafe owner won the Northern Beaches Local Business Award for inclusion this year.

“Employment is extremely important for a person’s self-worth and brings immense value to them and being part of a team offers the chance to make beautiful human connections,” he adds.

International Day of People with Disability ambassador Hugo Taheny.

Encouraging other local businesses to consider employing people with disability is something Guy feels strongly about. “The flow on effect from creating an inclusive environment is incredible, with the whole team bonding,” he says. “My staff with a disability have a fantastic work ethic, truly feel a part of something and work extremely hard.”

Nationally, the Federal Government is ‘committed’ to boosting the number of public sector roles held by those with a disability to 5.6 per cent by 2025 – double that of the 2.8 per cent recorded in 2016 – via ‘meaningful opportunities’ and ‘accessible workplaces’.

Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, believes that the International Day of People with Disability will help promote this to the business community. Eleven official ambassadors, including gold medal-winning shotput athlete and Down Syndrome advocate, Hugo Taheny, will help raise the profile of disability. The Federal Government’s JobAccess service offers workplace adjustment advice including job role redesign, while the employment assistance fund provides financial help to those living with disability and mental health conditions – and their employers – to purchase equipment and access support services to ensure the workplace is open to all.

Unlocking the world of work for as many people with disability as possible can only be done if the barriers of perception and physical accessibility begin to crumble. The International Day of People with Disability will shine a spotlight, but it is the ongoing conversation with the local community that will make this rite of passage and the untold benefits a reality. As Guy from The Mind Café says: “The exciting challenge is working out each person’s strengths, as the value comes from what we bring to them and how they connect with our community. Everyone has something to give.”


By Catherine Lewis