STEPS Managing Director and Jobs Australia Board Chair, Carmel Crouch is as passionate today about helping people with a disability as she was when she first started her mission to create a better, fairer life for people with a disability more than 32 years ago. What started as a group of concerned parents wanting more for their children, has grown into a national Not for Profit organisation providing a buffet of “hand up” services including employment, education and training, and community support services, providing opportunities for thousands of people with a disability every year.

Reflecting on International Day of People with a Disability, Carmel said she was glad to see this year’s theme focus on leadership, saying that courageous, future-focused agile leadership was needed to drive inclusion in Australia.

Carmel said that while the values of respect, integrity, understanding, and courage are entwined in STEPS’ culture and form the organisations’ pillars for decision making, she said courage in the industry, in leadership, and amongst workers needed greater emphasis in order to speed up inclusivity rates within Australia.

“We need to be more courageous in advocating for the rights of people with a disability every day,” Carmel said.

“We need to stop accepting the statistics around workforce inclusion, accessibility, education, and more, and start saying out loud – this is not ok!” she said.

“And we need to have the courage to innovate and build resilience in our teams so that when innovation happens, our workforce is on board and ready to take action for a better future for people with a disability,” she said.

STEPS are no stranger to innovation and over the years have made it their mission to “find the gaps” in support and services for people with a disability. Their most recent and possibly greatest achievement for people with a disability to date has been the establishment of STEPS Pathways College.

STEPS Pathways College is a ground-breaking model aimed at giving young adults with a disability and autism the chance to learn a broad range of skills to prepare them for life-long independence. The College provides students with a holistic living and learning environment in which their skills can be fostered and tested before entering the community ready to tackle life as an independent young adult.

STEPS Pathways College has been hugely successful with the team fielding more than 300 inquiries per month, leading to their planned expansion throughout Australia over the next 5 years.

Carmel said one of the challenges of innovation in the disability sector was the ability to establish self-sustaining business models in a highly regulated environment, which she sees as the benchmark for the minimum level of care and support.

“We believe in creating holistic service models for the best outcomes for each individual, this costs a lot”, she said.

“That is why it is absolutely critical for disability organisations to partner with the community for real innovation, and change, to occur.”

Carmel said establishing a charity to raise funds for the College and make up the shortfall in the cost of services to students had been key to seeing so many students graduate to a life of independence.

“Through our charity, we have established strategic partnerships with businesses looking to make an impact. The value of approaching innovation in partnership with private business should not be overlooked or underestimated,” Carmel said.

“While we still have a long way to changing perceptions and attitudes towards people with a disability in society, there are many people out there looking for a way to help make a difference and are willing to provide the financial or in-kind means to make it happen.”