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Respecting Choice and Delivering on Trust

As a well-known spokesperson and advocate for people with a disability, Mel regularly helps others but, when it comes to advocating for herself, says she is appreciative of the support she receives from Di, her support coordinator.

Melanie Schlaeger, or Mel as she likes to be known, has been working in the disability sector for the past eight years and, despite a busy lifestyle, full-time job and her volunteer work, takes an active role in recruiting her support staff.

Mel has a set of qualities that she looks for when recruiting her ‘support crew’ and it’s not what you might expect. Ahead of qualifications, medical training and years of experience, she’s looking for a person who is kind, has empathy and is respectful of other people and their choices and boundaries (and a sense of humour is good too).

Mel finds that the best way to gauge whether a person has these qualities is by having a face-to-face conversation with them.

“It depends on the kind of conversation you have and how they react when you talk about what you need. I try to be as honest as possible while keeping intact my dignity,” says Mel.

Mel applies a similar approach to engaging allied health professionals and service providers – again, choosing to work with organisations that are open to and respectful of her choices.

Mel met Di at a conference two years ago, was impressed with her values and approach, and hired her as her support coordinator.

Di has been assisting Mel to make her new home accessible, working with occupational therapists and NDIS approved builders and preparing documentation. She has also assisted Mel with organising assistive technology and other supports.

“Although my NDIS knowledge is good, it’s not my focus…this way I can have my needs and future needs considered by a professional who knows me well.”

You might wonder why someone with Mel’s knowledge and experience requires the services of a support coordinator. Aside from her busy schedule, Mel explains that, although her NDIS knowledge is good, it’s not her focus, whereas, for Di, it’s her profession. And this knowledge and Di’s understanding of Mel’s needs and wishes means that Di can recommend things that will benefit Mel that Mel hasn’t thought of herself. But the main benefit is Di’s ability to assist her to advocate for what she wants and needs, from a professional and non-emotional vantage point.

Di’s relationship with Mel is based on respect and trust that she will represent Mel in the way she would like. And as a gatekeeper role that suggests and organises a wide range of supports and plays a key part in demonstrating the need for future supports, delivering on this trust is fundamental – this is, after all, why Mel goes to such lengths to hire the right support crew.

“I think that’s why it’s so important to have the opportunity to recruit your own crew because otherwise, life happens, things happen and you don’t want some random stranger there,” says Mel.

And Mel’s efforts have been worthwhile, as she has gained a ‘crew’ worthy of her trust that provide the professional and respectful active support she requires.

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