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What makes a great support worker? The top five qualities to look for

Being a disability support worker is a unique role to play in someone’s life — they need to be a good match for your life and personality.

We’ve asked people with disability, and here are the top five things to think about when it comes to choosing a support worker.

1. They know when to step up and step back

Your support worker should know when to provide the support you’ve asked for, and when to let you do your own thing. They should ask what you want support with, never assume you can’t do something, and never do things on your behalf like talk to people for you (unless you’ve clearly set that expectation). You might even want to set a service agreement with them to make your expectations clear.

2. They know the value of communication

Your support worker should know communication is key to a great working relationship. They should listen to you closely and confirm they’ve understood. They shouldn’t shy away from topics necessary to your care, but at the same time they shouldn’t intrude past boundaries you’ve set.

Great communication for you might mean using augmentative and alternative communication aids. Check your support worker is comfortable and experienced with the aids you use, and willing to learn how you use them.

3. Patience and a sense of humour

Because society still isn’t fully accessible, everyday things like getting around town, browsing through the shops or even eating can take time, effort and a few mishaps for people with disability.

Your support worker should understand this and always focus on problem-solving and putting your wellbeing at the centre of everything they do. Getting frustrated and stuck on barriers doesn’t help anyone.

Sometimes, you just need your support worker to have a laugh with you and find a way to carry on.

4. Reliability

Your support worker becomes a crucial part of your daily life, so they need to be reliable and take their commitment to you seriously. They should be on time, organised, and clear with you about their availability.

A support worker’s reliability can be affected by who they work for, and the conditions their employer sets, like minimum work hours, pay and overtime conditions. Many support workers are operating as sole traders through the NDIS, which can mean they have more control over their workload, but maybe less access to things like an accessible vehicle.

Friends, family and your support network in the disability community might be able to recommend a person or organisation with a lot of experience working with real people.

It’s also worth having an open conversation with whoever you choose. Ask them about their qualifications and experience, whether they’re registered with the NDIS, how available they are, and what they offer as a support worker.

5. Respect

All of these qualities come down to respect. Your support worker should respect you as an equal, and always work to support your independence and choices. Having them in your life should make it easier for you to lead the life you want. They should focus on your goals and how you want to achieve them, contribute creative ideas, and make sure your time together is valuable.

Ultimately, you have the right to interview or trial your support worker. This doesn’t have to be awkward — a good support worker will want you to find the perfect fit.

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