For those with a disability, the opportunity to live a valued and meaningful life is all that matters to Jo-Anne Hewitt. And as CEO of disability support provider Achieve Australia, she’s in the perfect place to help make this happen.
Founded in 1952, Achieve Australia has been providing accommodation and expert support services to people with disabilities in Greater Sydney and the Northern Rivers region of NSW for over 67 years.
“We talk in terms of ‘my home, my life, my career, my wellbeing’ – our services are based on all those things needed to make a good life,” Jo-Anne says. “People with disabilities are no different. Achieve is supporting them to live their best lives in whatever way we can.”
Achieve is a for-purpose community organisation and an NDIS registered provider with 1,100 staff and volunteers. Based in Sydney, it provides support to service hubs throughout the region.
Welcomed as CEO in 2019, Jo-Anne has a 42-year background in the disability sector with executive roles in The Benevolent Society, Cerebral Palsy Alliance and Uniting Care Disability. “I’ve certainly seen a lot of change, both in terms of the sector itself and how we support people with a disability,” she points out.
With the company’s passion for social inclusion and building extraordinary lives for people with disability, it’s easy to see why Jo-Anne feels so at home in her new role.
“People with a disability are often pigeonholed into limited choices,” she suggests. “Social inclusion is ensuring people are connected to, and are a part of, the community of their choosing. It’s about being able to choose who you socialise with, live with and work with, and receiving support to do this.”
Achieve provides a range of options for the individual needs of people with disabilities and the way they live their lives. “We were one of the first organisations to adopt a person-centred approach,” says Jo-Anne proudly.
Person-centred practices ensure the focus is on the individual and the contribution they can make to society. The person with a disability is at the centre of decisions that relate to their life and their own best interests.
Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is delivering a consistent and universal person-centred approach to those who need it. “NDIS is very much about enabling choice and control,” Jo-Anne suggests.
“The implementation of the NDIS, although still very much a work in progress, has created so much difference in the way people with disabilities and their families live their lives, compared with even five years ago. People can be more discerning about how they use their funding and which service providers they use. There’s more opportunity to be flexible.”
“We’ve had a great relationship with the National Disability Insurance Agency,” she adds. “We work with the agency at a local level to ensure our service users get what they need and at a higher level around policy, strategy and providing a voice for those with a disability.”
Achieve is also a member of Alliance20, a sector-wide advocacy group of Australia’s 20 largest and influential disability service providers.
“We work closely with the Minister for NDIS and the CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to make sure we’re sharing and receiving information from the perspective of both the service providers and the service participants,” Jo-Anne says.
“The end goal is to change the way Australian society deals with people with a disability. The notion of funding people according to their own needs and aspirations and enabling them to live the way they want in the community with the support they need, is an amazing step forward.”
The people factor has played an important role in Achieve Australia’s success. Professionals from all walks of life are drawn to the disability sector. Jo-Anne suggests that anyone can work in the sector with the right training or skills for the role, but it’s their passion to positively affect the lives of people with a disability that makes the difference.
“Everybody is here for the same purpose, and that’s ultimately for the outcomes for people with disabilities,” she says. “You don’t have to be special – you just have to care. In your heart you need to have the right attitude and want to help people to live good lives. We’re just ordinary people who see that people with disabilities matter.”
Achieve offers employment initiatives for people with disabilities and engagement opportunities with the local community through volunteer work. AchievAble Enterprises is a pack-and-send service, providing meaningful employment and employment skills to those with a disability. The Sewing Basket is a small social enterprise with support from local volunteers who have an interest in supporting the organisation and its purpose.
“The end goal is to change the way Australian society deals with people with a disability.”
“These initiatives provide so much more than employment, they create a community connection,” Jo-Anne adds. “Likewise, it’s been important to form strategic partnerships with companies that have the same values as us and understand what we’re trying to achieve. Working in partnerships with companies like N-Able IT, who provide all our IT support, means we don’t need to be the experts in every field and we can focus on supporting people with disabilities,” says Jo-Anne. “We’re looking for organisations that live and breathe what they do.
“As CEO, I am clear on my vision for the organisation and why I’m here. Our values base and customer focus help me make decisions and engage with my staff and the people I support. I want to contribute not just to the organisation but also to the whole sector and the community supporting disability going forward.
“While the disability and not-for-profit sector is a mainly female workforce, it’s been a long time coming to have women represented at a senior executive and CEO level,” she adds. “Often, women don’t necessarily see themselves in these roles, yet we have stronger engagement with our workforce because it’s largely female.”
“What excites me most is the opportunity to lead our Achieve team so we can together support those people with a disability to live their best lives. This is what matters.”
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