Major Reform in Disability Employment is anticipated Plus how Woolworth’s show their employees ‘I am here.’

Disability employment reform

Department of Social Services (DSS) is currently reviewing the Disability Employment Services (DES) program, known as the DES reform. The current DES system connects people with disability, chronic illness or injury to employment opportunities. There is consensus that the current system does not work for everyone, including our members.

Australian Disability Network is a member of the DES reform Reference Group and we are actively using the voice of our network to create positive policy change.

As members of the Reference group, we have an important role in representing our members concerns to government and influencing system changes in the DES program

Working alongside our members, we want to be sure that the reform means:

  • the DES program works for all employers, including large and multi-site
  • the DES program has targeted outcomes and experiences, so users do not need to create workarounds.

Our ultimate goal is for the DES program to support employers connecting people with disability. We know to achieve this the DES program must work for employees and employers alike.

To amplify the employer voice, we’re urging our members to get involved in influencing this change. Options include:   

Complete the PwC survey

Focused on the DES reform, PwC has been engaged by DSS to seek input from a wide range of stakeholders including jobseekers, services providers and employers to understand their experiences, expectations and what is important to them in the disability employment services.

This survey forms one part of these engagements and is designed to provide a better understanding of current practices, workplace attitudes, barriers to accessing Disability Employment Services and expectations to improve your organisation’s ability to find, recruit and retain more people with disability.

The survey should only take 10 minutes or less, and responses will be anonymised and completely confidential. Your response would be invaluable in shaping the future of disability employment in Australia so have your say in the PwC survey today.

The survey closes Friday 15 October.  

The survey results will then be provided to the DSS.

Provide feedback to Australian Disability Network

Participate in one of our virtual workshops to discuss the DES reform and the consultation paper released by DSS. We will collate the feedback, to guide our submission back to DSS.

Workshop details:

Workshop 1

  • Date: Monday 8 November
  • Time: 2pm to 3:30pm

Workshop 2

  • Date: Friday 12 November
  • Time: 10:30am to 12 pm

Workshop 3

  • Date: Tuesday 16 November
  • Time: 10am to 11:30am

If you participate in our workshops, we will provide you with a summary of the consultation paper ahead of the meeting.

Have your say and influence change.

What is the Disability Employment Services program?

The DES program is a government initiative that connects people with disability, chronic illness, or injury to employment opportunities.

Find out more information about the DES program.


I am here: How Woolworths Group support their employees’ mental health

As part of our “Wellbeing in the workplace,” series, AND is sharing how member organisations are supporting their employees’ mental health throughout the pandemic, R U OK day and beyond. Today, we’re sharing how Woolworths Group is supporting their employees’ mental through their program ‘I am here.’

For the Woolworths Group, supporting employees’ mental health has been front-of-mind for several years.

Rachel Mead, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Woolworths Group says

Mental health is a topic on everyone’s lips. Particularly after the disruption due to COVID-19 in the past 15 months.

Woolworths Group recognised the importance of supporting employee’s mental health prior to the pandemic, so the organisation built out a mental health support system.

Mental health has been Woolworths Groups number one risk priority for a few years now and with it we wanted to introduce learning that would help our team members to support others, and themselves.

And so, ‘I am here’ was implemented. While ‘I am here,’ is an external program, Group Wellbeing Coordinator of Woolworths Group, Alastair Taylor, worked closely with the ‘I am here,’ team to design their version of a program that tailored specifically to Woolworths Group employees, experiences and language.

Woolworths Group identified the ‘I am here,’ program as right for their organisation for two main reasons:

  • The simplicity of the notion – that it is okay to not be okay, and absolutely okay to ask for help.
  • The change in mindset – the program is centered on emotion and breaking down the stigma to ask for help.

‘I am here’ is an online support network offering various types of e-learning courses, to educate and empower employees at all levels across the organisations for support with mental health.

It gives the participants the courage and confidence to ask someone if they’re OK, and the confidence to know where to signpost to help and support.

It’s built on the belief that it’s ok to not feel ok and absolutely ok to ask for help. Its more than a tool – it comprises a community of people who want to make a difference.

‘I am here’ is a resounding success, with over 38,000 team members at Woolworths Group completing the Tribe members course.

For Rachel, supporting mental health is priority.

Without organisations supporting mental health of team members, absenteeism, presenteeism and motivation to work can be adversely affected.

For Woolworths Group ‘I am here,’ is more than just a e-learns and training – it’s a program that provides the tools, knowledge and resources for employees that can positively shape their culture. It’s a program that builds a sense of community among the staff, where employees are able to feel part of a movement that priortises and values mental health.

For organisations looking to create a similar culture, or even begin their journey of supporting mental health, Rachel has a few tips.

Look at making sure that team members know where to signpost to help, and that holistic wellbeing is at the forefront of your mind. A question I often ask myself is, what support would a family member of mine need if they were in need of support.

Need support?
If you, or anyone you know, needs support you can:

If you our someone you know needs urgent support, contact lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.


The circle of Stepping Into: alumnus-turned-supervisor Debbie Heron

Debbie Herron - photo - 290921.jpeg (4500×3600)Students with disability who participate in Stepping Into often reap the benefits throughout their career. No-one knows this better than Debbie Heron, Stepping Into alumnus who has now moved into a managerial position and was a supervisor for Stepping Into interns at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

I think Stepping Into was honestly the catalyst for everything that I’ve done after it. I would really encourage any employee that’s thinking about it – do it, you will not regret it.

In 2005, during its pilot year, then third-year law student Debbie Heron was searching for internships. While she received positive feedback throughout job interviews, she found it challenging progressing beyond that.

In the back of her mind, Debbie recalls wondering if her disability was impacting the way employers were perceiving her. During a late-night Google search, she came across AND’s Stepping Into program.

Debbie says it was a blessing. “This could be the answer to my prayers,” she recalls thinking.  “It was such a pivotal moment for me that I was taken seriously by an organisation.”

Following her internship, she applied for a graduate program at the same organisation and was successful in securing the placement.

I felt safe. I felt supported and I felt that I was taken seriously and that’s exactly what I want for other people with disability.

Her previous experience as an intern and her lived experience as a person with disability has given her key insights into what experiences she wants to emulate for her interns at the Royal Commission.

Now that I’m in this managerial position, I want other people with disability to be able to experience what I experienced.

For her intern Jane, Debbie focused on interview preparation, including mock interviews and addressing selection criteria to assist Jane in getting into a graduate program or work once she finished her degree.

“We just had the best time,” Debbie says. “You could see Jane’s confidence growing day-by-day.”

Jane took minutes and notes, she sat in on meetings and public hearings and assisted preparing for roundtables.  Jane even had the opportunity to lead some of the information-based phone calls with various stakeholders.

For Debbie, it was crucial that Jane felt she was part of the team and had support throughout the entire experience, and someone to debrief with afterwards.

Today, Debbie sees Stepping Into as an avenue “where students with disabilities can thrive and can know that they are worth possibly more, than they thought they were before.

It also provides the employer with this different view set. I think people with disability have a really interesting way of looking at the world, as we have to be resilient and think of things from different angles.

For any students or jobseekers with disability, Debbie also has some advice to offer – the same advice she offered her intern on their last day together.

Don’t play small. The world is not better off for you playing small. You need to show yourself to the world and the world deserves to see you. You deserve to be in it. Take any opportunity that comes your way, put yourself out there. You are good enough and organisations will be better off with you in it. So just please, never play small.

If you’re a student with disability looking to reap the benefits of paid internship, or if you know someone who is, share this out with your networks and encourage students with disability to apply now.

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