Using a Social Model of Disability and Becoming People-Centered in Your Practice

Everyday Independence is an allied health business that supports people with a disability to reach their full potential and to enjoy an everyday life. They build on what is working and create changes in areas that are not by doing OT, physio and speech pathology.

The Everyday Independence team – Ingrid Cole, Mal Healey and Leanne Healey – share their experience on how using a social model of disability and becoming a people-centered practice has helped them improve their team, participants, and business.


Working towards a social model of disability

To be able to progress to a social model of disability, they went back to the basics and looked at a lot of work around person-centered practice. They changed their language, reporting formats, and so much more. They worked on becoming a person-centered organisation from within – changing the way they work with their team members. Their person-centered practice was inspired by Helen Sanderson which became their starting point. They rolled it out in a fairly intensive way across the team.


What a person-centered organisation looks like

A person-centered organisation starts with the person in the middle – either the participant or the staff member. It follows an organisational structure that is tipped upside down with all the members and directors ensure that there’s an environment where team members have the resources and motivation to support participants.

All the tools, strategies and all of the capacity building support they use when working with participants in their natural environment are the same tools they use for their team members. The way they approach certain processes in their organisation may look very similar to the way they assess and build goals with somebody in the community. The rationale behind this is because at the end of the day, we are all trying to learn, develop skills and work towards goals whether in a career or lifestyle level. The flow and effect happens right through their organisation into the people that they work with.


Helping participants reach their goals

Shifting to a social model has really been a big jump for them because when you’re working in a social model you’re looking at building capable environments around people (not just physical but social environments) such as the people they communicate with and viewing that disability is a social construct.

When you are working in a social model it’s working with everyone around the person. Capacity building is not training in education. It’s truly building capacity of people in confidence.


Improving and growing their team

In the last 12 months, their team has grown from 112 people to 232 people. They have welcomed occupational therapists, physios and speech pathologists to their organisation and have built support teams to support therapists and help them deliver their best work to ensure that their participants reach their goals.

Shifting to this model came with its ups and downs. Therapists who have shifted from medical type practices to this more contemporary and person-centered one had different views about it – both positive and negative.

The positive effects they saw was more shared responsibility on goal achievement. When you work in a person-centered way, you go in there with no set agenda and you’re working on the goals that are important for that person. It’s not goals based on assessment score sheets. If you’re doing that you’re getting an incredible outcome. The therapists have really valued getting great  impact for people. Looking at coupled results with performance, the impact for participants are far greater when they are working on goals that are important to them. 

On the down side, the sessions were sometimes questioned because people are used to going into very highly planned sessions with assessment forms – and these aren’t used in person-centered sessions. It sometimes became a source of frustration for people because they felt like they didn’t have a lot of control over the session.


Overall, adapting this model has shaped their teams. They have become person-centered in the way that they recruit to retain people and assigning the right job for them. They aim to fine-tune their employee value proposition not just in terms of the way they deliver their social model to disability but also in the way they train, develop and function as a team.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *