Southwest Advocacy Association (SWAA) has operated throughout south west Victoria since 1993 as an independent, not-for-profit, community organisation.
Funded by the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health & Human Services, it was tasked with providing advocacy and information under the Disability Discrimination Act and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act, to people of all ages with all types of disabilities.
In addition, SWAA is funded to support people through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which is an avenue for people with disability to challenge a decision made by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
SWAA has recently been appointed to also represent people who wish to speak to or make a submission to the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation of people with disability.
People with disability have the same aspirations as people without disability, but there are often barriers that prevent this from becoming a reality.
The rollout of the NDIS is intended to change the way that eligible people with a disability are funded, but not everybody is eligible and the complexities of this transformative social change has resulted in many people with disability falling through the cracks.
This is where SWAA comes into play.
As well as providing independent advocacy to people with disability, SWAA is undertaking a project to assist people with disability who are applying to access the NDIS.
The project involves the establishment of peer support groups in Warrnambool, Camperdown, Hamilton and Portland.
The project workers will work with the individuals in the groups to assist NDIS participants, families, carers and the wider community.
That can include anyone who has been denied access, or those wanting to know how to navigate the NDIS, self-manage their own plan, or research the availability of service providers that will suit their needs.
The key is that the NDIS is all about choice.
Members of the groups will guide SWAA.
It may not be a reinvention of the wheel, but many people with disabilities are unaware of what the NDIS entails and how it works.
The ultimate aim is that the groups and individuals will be as self-sufficient as possible, sharing their wealth of knowledge and assisting each other so that no person with a disability falls through the gaps which, to date, has been a far too common story.
Let's bring back a sense of community where we can all help and support each other by closing those gaps.
Let's remove the "dis" from disability and highlight the abilities that we as a community are capable of.