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Support Worker Guide

If you have or who would like to have a support job, this guide is for you.


I created this guide together to help disability support workers discover how they can be great supporters of people with an intellectual disability. My interest is personal, because my son is a happy and successful PWID thanks to his relationship with great disability supporters. Not all started out great, but they quickly learned to support my son with compassion and friendliness as well as following the rules of personal care, safety and community access.

What makes a great disability supporter?  You respect each person with a disability in your care, even if they have features or behaviour that you find unattractive.   You show poise, communication, clarity of focus and pay attention to the person and their environment.  It's about staying calm and using your eyes and your ears to know what a person is communicating to you in their body language and the sounds they make.   Good supporting comes from a personal style that is non-threatening yet confident.   You need to be clear from the start about your role and what you have been employed to do.   The work involves encouraging people to get through transitions.  Great disability supporters grow as they face challenges and unexpected events.  Great support involves performance - a bit of theatre - as well as emotional honesty.

Formal qualifications?

To get a job as a disability support worker you should have a first aid certificate Level 2, a National Police Check certificate and some training (or personal experience) in the personal care and support of a person with a disability. If you are new to the field, your employer may provide you with some basic training as required by law. You can also get information on the Internet about disability, the rights of a person with a disability the obligations of support services, and the advocacy role of disability support workers. You should do the NDIS online training course


It is also great if you know about Person Centred Active Support - a way of working that enables everyone, no matter what their level of intellectual or physical disability, to make choices and participate in meaningful activities and social relationships. A free online course demonstrates how it works in a video:


It's a good idea to join the Disability Support Worker Registration Scheme


There are many different types of disability, some mostly affecting a person’s physical capacities and others, which are cognitive, affecting the way a person thinks or feels. This guide is mostly about supporting people with intellectual disabilities.


Read more... What is Intellectual Disability




Why are disability support workers needed for people with an intellectual disability?  

  • To improve the social participation of people with disability?

  • To support people with disability to participate in their community and develop hobbies and friendships?

  • To develop and enhance socially valued roles and independence?

  • To assist people with disability to participate in peer-based activities?

  • To help people expand friendships and networks and maintain existing relationships?

  • To provide respite to family members and carers?

  • To assist people with disability to live independently as independently as possible?


Yes. All of the above. And more.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) context for disability support workers and opportunities for training

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) allocates funds to individuals with disability to purchase services that reflect their lifestyle and aspirations.


NDIS planners respond to the person’s interests and goals while considering their immediate and unmet needs. Plans are reviewed every year, and budgets are set up for funding to cover the life of the annual plan.


NDIS planners consult with a person with a permanent and significant disability and their family to develop an NDIS funded plan that will enhance the person’s capacity for independence and community engagement. As the plan is reviewed each year, a person’s changing situation (such as the ageing of his parents) can be taken into account and substitute support developed. Once the plan has been approved, funding is allocated to the individual and paid to service providers registered with the NDIS. These organisations set up a service agreement and invoice the NDIS through their online service portal.


In some cases the individual or their parent/carer nominates to self-manage their NDIS plan. They are then responsible for selecting and paying service providers. As such, they have obligations as an employer. The advantage of self-management is that services can be purchased from alternative providers to those registered with the NDIS.


Another alternative is to have self-management with the support of a plan management agency. This is where a financial intermediary agency takes on the responsibility of paying service providers and meeting employer responsibilities.


Therefore workers may be employed by an agency registered with the NDIS or may work as a sole trader with a personal ABN,-Super-funds---Charities/Applying-for-an-ABN/Business-structures/Individual-Sole-trader/


Whichever way workers are employed, they need skills and sensitivity to the individuals they support.

Shout out to casual support workers  Thank you for putting your hand out to support vulnerable people.  Almost 4 in 10 workers in the disability sector are employed on a casual basis.  Some work for agencies. Some work as individual support workers or contractors supporting individuals who are NDIS self-managed or plan managed

Empowering Support

This guide will help workers whose job might be with a person you have never met before. Sometimes you don’t get much information about the person you will work with. Always remember your duty of care to the person.  Duty of care is when somebody is depending on you to be careful and if you are not careful there is a chance that person could get hurt. 


To find out more information, you might ask to see personal and private information attached to the person’s Support Plan. Some examples of the information that may be included in Personal and Private Information are:

  • personal care, such as dressing, bathing, personal hygiene

  • meal assistance

  • health care needs and contacts

  • therapy support needs and contacts

  • communication needs and communication aids such as photos, visual schedules and communication books where people write about things that have happened in a person’s day that are important to them.

When you are assisting a person with a disability, if they can’t easily tell you about their support needs and their likes and dislikes, and you only have the most basic information about them, you will need to draw on your own skills.


You will need to make a good connection with the person and their family or carers. You will need to communicate clearly and use your eyes and ears. Be prepared to be flexible. Remember you have a duty of care to the person. If you are not careful, there is a chance that person could get hurt, emotionally or physically. 


You may need to get skills in Positive Behaviour Support. Read more... Behaviour of Concern and Positive Behaviour Support


In a disability support worker role, you are expected to meet a standard of care to protect the person with a disability from abuse or neglect. This includes protection from the effects of weather (coats, hats and sun smart protection), hydration (regular opportunity for drinks of water) and regular toilet breaks. Breach of duty of care is when you don’t meet that standard. 


It helps if you are familiar with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Preamble tells us about human rights in general as well as the rights of people with disabilities. It tells of rights we don’t even have to think about when we enjoy freedom in our everyday life in Australia. It tells of other countries, where people suffer from lack of freedom, where there is discrimination, slavery and war.


Read more... United Nations Convention


It’s tricky balancing rights with intensive support needs. My son needs guidance and support to develop independence in self-care. Good support workers encourage him towards food options that suit that his long-term health. Of course he loves treats, and a good support worker will help him access these foods occasionally, but it’s okay to say: When we eat lots of those foods, we will get sick.


You can read some more real-life examples of the principles in action here: Stories showing the rights of people with disability.



VALID (The Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with a Disability) has a position statement on the advocacy role of disability support workers in promoting and facilitating the rights and interests of the people they support. The statement can be read in full at:


You can also see some notes on the statement here


Connect with a person in a way that suits their style and culture

All support workers need to know the individual needs and personality of the person they support to connect in a way that suits the person’s style or culture. Disability support agencies should provide you with a personalised individual support plan for the person you are employed to support. If you are a contractor employed directly by the person (or their nominee), it is up to you to ask if the person has a communication book or a folder of information about them to help you find out how to connect with them.


The support worker needs to know about the person’s communication skills and cultural background. Read the person’s Individual Support Plan or other material that tells you about the person’s needs and likes. Listens to what the person says she needs. Sometimes you might need to support a person to find relevant culturally appropriate information and access the information.


Grace provides community access support to Jade, a young adult who has an Aboriginal background and a ‘borderline’ intellectual disability. Jade’s mum is a lawyer and her dad is a teacher. They are busy people and their house is often crowded with relatives visiting from the country. Many times, Jade has to share her room with noisy cousins. She wants to move out and live on her own. Today, while she and Grace are out for coffee, she asks Grace if she can help her find a house to rent.

Grace shows Jade how to find the rentals listing  on her phone at

Jade sees that the rents are too high. Grace asks Jade if she has talked to her parents about moving out. Jade says that they think that first she needs to learn more independence skills. They said it takes a long time to find an affordable rental place, but Jade wants to get started with looking.  Grace helps Jade look on the Internet. She suggests that Jade googles some key words: young women, aboriginal, housing, outreach, Melbourne. When Jade does this, one of the sites jumps out at them: Aboriginal Housing Victoria

Grace helps Jade to navigate through the site to “housing allocation information”. The information shows that there is a long wait for housing. Grace suggests they look at section titled “What is priority housing?’ There are six categories including things like “urgent medical needs”, supported housing, current “unsafe housing”, and current “inappropriate housing”. Jade reads aloud the sub-categories of “inappropriate housing”, which are: severe overcrowding, unsuitable housing and family reunification. Grace agrees that for Jade, home is severely overcrowded. She says that they can go to the Housing Office to get the application forms and she can help Jade fill them in.

In the tram, on the way to the housing office, Grace suggests that Jade ask the housing office about supported housing. Living at home, Jade’s parents help her with getting her meals and washing her clothes and helping her get to TAFE. If Jade moves out, she might need support. Jade agrees this is a good idea and she will ask Aboriginal Housing if they can help with supported housing for her.


Remember the rights of people with a disability to community participation and individual choice

The Victorian Disability Act 2006 commenced on 1 July 2007. The Act is the framework for people with disability to more actively participate in the community. The Act is based on the principles of human rights and citizenship. The Act sets up an expectation for flexible support for a person with a disability based on maximum choice and the person’s individual requirements


The Disability Service Standards listed as WEAP (a mnemonic of the first letters of the key standards that might help your remember them)


Wellbeing: People’s right to wellbeing and safety is promoted and upheld.

Empowerment: People’s rights are promoted and upheld.

Access and Engagement: People’s right to access transparent, equitable and integrated services is promoted and upheld.

Participation: People’s rights to choice, decision making and to actively participate as a valued member of their chosen community is promoted and upheld.


As a great supporter, you are keen to learn and apply your knowledge to enable the people you support. There is just one more thing you might want to look at. That is what to do when you face an unexpected event, or an accident. Check out What you do to assist a person who has an epileptic fit.


Thank you for reading this guide.


Other guides:

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