Office for Disability Update

This was the final session at the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 14 February 2019.


This session provides a unique opportunity for the Office for Disability to update the sector directly on key government initiatives including ongoing work to strengthen the Victorian Disability Advocacy Program. Felix Neighbour, Manager stakeholder Engagement talked about the progress being made with the State disability Plan amongst other initiatives.



Links to initiatives mentioned in this session:


Audio and Transcript

Now we’re into the last session of the day.  I would like to invite Felix Neighbour from the Office for Disability for the update.

Hi everyone, how do I follow that presentation and the others from today, I don’t quite know how.  There’s so many important stories and testimonials.  As Scott would say that was incredible.  Thanks for the presentations.

Before I begin, I just want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land of which we meet the people of the Kulin Nation and pay my respects to elders past present and emerging and any Aboriginal people here today.

My name is Felix.  I’m the Manager of the Strategic Engagement Team in the Office for Disability.  Thanks for the opportunity to come and talk today.

For those who don’t know about the Office for Disability, we’ve been around since September 2006 and our mission is to really make sure that people with disability are included in social, civic and economic life of the community.  Lauren earlier in the day said there is 1.1 million people with disability in Victoria that’s who we work with.

I’ve got a quite hefty presentation today and I was typing up my notes this morning. I thought maybe I needed a power point but you’ve just got my non regional English accent.  Apologies for that, I will try and make it as exciting as I can.

We’ve been quite busy in the Office for Disability in Government.  The first thing I want to talk about is the Department of Health and Human Services launched its Disability Action Plan on the 3rd of December.  For those who don’t know what Disability Action Plans are, they’re policies that organisations can use to improve access to their organisation for people with disability.

Our Disability Action Plan has actions across 28 action areas.  It’s quite a read; we do have an easy read version and a summary for people who would like that.  There will shortly be an Auslan version and Braille version as well.

The focus of the Disability Action Plan is really across two areas.  We thought it’s really important to reinforce there is two really important areas here.  One is around making sure that a workplace is inclusive, accessible and safe.  There’s actions around employment, IT, communications, buildings so on and so forth.  But there is also a whole part of the plan about how do we make our services and programs accessible and inclusive.  That includes some of the discussion today.  There’s actions around Aboriginal self-determination, there’s actions around parents with disability.

There’s a summary on the table.  The plan is on the Department of Health and Human Services website.  We’re going to be updating the plan annually, we’re going to be reporting on it in our Departments annual report and we’ve been working with people with disability to make the plan.

As part of the plan, the plan includes the Departments Disability Employment Strategy.  That’s a really important part of what the Department is doing at the moment.  That includes initiatives such as mentoring and reverse mentoring so people with disability mentoring people without a disability.  We’ve done profiles of staff with disability, paid internships, programs like the Rise at DHHS Initiative, which is around getting people with autism into employment, that’s been very successful.

Just recently, some people who’ve gone for that program have gone on to get longer-term employment opportunities in other parts of Government.  That’s what we’re doing in that space.  I’m more than happy to answer questions and also to have follow up conversations about any of this stuff and I will send web links.

The Disability Employment Strategy of the Department is part of a much bigger piece of work we need to do as Government.  We’ve set ourselves a target of having 6% of the public service workforce being people with disability by 2020 and that increasing to 12% by 2025.  Late last year their Getting to Work Plan was released by the Victorian Public Sector Commission and that really outlines what the Government is going to do to get more people with disability into employment.

That strategy is part of an even bigger plan, which is an economic participation plan, called Every Opportunity.  That’s around increasing employment in Government, in business, getting more entrepreneurs with disability engaged in the economy.  That itself, includes some initiatives that we’re working with the Municipal Association of Victoria around supporting Local Government to employ more people with disability and also working with the Australian Network on Disability to get more people with disability employed in regional areas.

As well as all that, we’re quite busy but we’re also working on the area of civic participation.  I think I’ve mentioned it a few times at these forums.  We’re working on an initiative to increase the number of people with disability on Victorian boards.  The figures need to improve.  Under 1% of people report as having a disability who sit on Victorian boards and that needs to change.

We’ve been working with the Self Advocacy Resource Unit and the Voice at the Table Initiatives so that’s around getting people with cognitive disability onto boards but also Christina Ryan at the Disability Leadership Institute and Leadership Victoria are really working across Government and with people with disability on that initiative.

From the end of March, there will be training for Government staff, board personnel and also people with disability.  We will be circulating that through the DARU update.  For people with disability now there’s coaching available through the Disability Leadership Institute.  There’s plenty of vacancies coming up at the moment.

If there’s people with disability who are interested on getting onto a board I acknowledge there is plenty of people with disability who have plenty of board experience but if you know of people or you yourself want to get onto a board and need a bit of coaching or one to one support the Leadership Institute can provide that.  There’s also a national register of disability leaders that we’re supporting.  If you want to get signed up to that register that’s also available.

How do you find all this information – well you’ve go to  and under Becoming a Board Member there’s a couple of information sheets.  Again, maybe we will get it circulated.  This is really good timing because just recently it’s now mandatory for anybody in Government whose about to recruit someone to a board to contact the Office for Disability.  We’ll put those people in touch with the Leadership Institute, with Voice at the Table and with the Register.  I hope that we can make those figures better.  Surely, we can do better than the current figures that we have.

An example of a committee is the Victorian Disability Advisory Council.  Appointments are now open.  Sure, there’s plenty of potential members in this room and in this sector.  Please hop on the  website if you’re interested that closes on the 10th of March.  We are seeking members and a chairperson for the council.  It’s a really important opportunity for people with disability and families including people from Aboriginal backgrounds, culturally diverse backgrounds and different life experiences.  Please consider applying if you’re interested.

I also think from an Office for Disability perspective it’s a good opportunity to thank Colleen Furlanetto who will be the outgoing chair of the advisory council for all of her work over the years as a council member and as a chairperson and also other outgoing members.  If she’s watching thank you Colleen and members, it’s been great to work with her.  This new council will continue to do important work.

Finally, I’m sure no one has heard there’s an Advocacy Futures Grant Program at the moment.  I’m sure you’re all aware that the date closes, the rounds close at 2.00 pm on the 21st of February.  There is $3.1 million available, including
$1 million for regional areas.  Questions close at midnight today.  No pressure but you need to get your questions in by today because that will enable us to get to organisations so they have time to put their applications in.

The grants round really talks to a lot of the issues that we’ve spoken about today about including everyone Aboriginal communities, parents, getting more people with disability employed in advocacy organisations.  That’s all part of the Advocacy Futures Plan.   The Advocacy Futures Plan and the Economic Participation Plan and the State Disability Plan they’re all on the same website.  It’s pretty easy to remember . If you’re interested in anything I’ve spoken about today, it’s all there.

Finally, I just want to acknowledge that I know organisations need to take themselves off line to write grant applications.  I just want to say deeply appreciate the efforts that you put in to give us your ideas.  Thank you.

Does anyone have any questions?

I’m sure right now, you’re all fed up with my voice but anyway I would like to acknowledge DHHS for the Disability Employment Plan.  I’ve read it it’s fantastic and I really like it.  The only one issue that I have found actually is I had to read through the whole thing because something happened recently.  What happened was there was a breach in regards to what to do.

As an advocate who do I go to, who do I send a complaint to in regards to all these breaches that had happened?  There was nothing within the plan to let me know what I could do.  They’re talking about all these promises and things but what and who do I go to in regards to discussing what had happened and where is the follow up in regards to that?

One thing I would really like to put out there is that we need some sort of investment and acknowledgment of who we can go to whenever there’s an issue with a plan, if people aren’t following the plan, who can we go to to ensure that this is happening?

I think that’s a general issue that I found with disability plans, disability employment plans is that there is no one I can go to if there’s been a breach of that plan in any workplace.  I just wanted to put that out there.

Is that in terms of discrimination in a particular workplace so you’ve applied for a job or you’ve heard about discrimination or is it about the plan itself that you’re not happy with it?

Unfortunately, I can’t mention to much off course it’s under confidentiality at the moment.  Just when issues arise where the breach of a plan has happened where can I go from there, who do I get in contact with to alert them of a breach?

I’m still a little bit unclear and tell me if you noticed already or I’m not answering your question.

Can we take this conversation off line?

Yeah, I think that would be better.

That would be a better way to do that.


A general issue if there is a problem with the plan, who do I get in contact with to say there is an issue that has been found in the plan, a generalised issue?

If it’s for the Economic Participation Plan, you can talk to the Office for Disability in the first instance and we can have a discussion about what the particular issue is.  Then off course as you’re probably aware if it’s around employment discrimination in general there’s advocacy organisations that work on that particular area, or there’s the Human Rights Commission but it’s always a matter of talking to the employer or recruiter in the first instance.  If it’s about the Economic Participation Plan, you could drop me an email.

No, sorry maybe work within DHHS itself, the work plan within DHHS itself have made a promise for people with disabilities who would like to work for the DHHS or public sector but there have been a lot of breaches in that.  They haven’t actually, as an organisation provided those opportunities or provided what was set out in that disability plan.  If there is a problem to contact a person and that person should be transparent and allocated in that plan, so there is someone to contact.

Drop me an email we’ll take it, we need to have a conversation or exchange and then I’ll connect you with who you need to talk to because it could be a number of people by the sound of it.  Let’s make contact after.

Okay is there any other questions for Felix?

Hi, you said that questions close at midnight tonight and I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that.

That’s fair enough.  There’s a grants round that’s been out since January and that’s called a Victorian Disability Advocacy Futures Grant.  All the information was released in early January and as part of the grants process we can take questions from organisations and then we come up with an answer and that answer is sent to all of the people who’ve registered for the grants.

If there’s anybody who’s got questions about the grants program such as can I apply, what does this criteria mean, what does this mean in general we can only accept questions up to midnight tonight.  That’s what it is, it’s questions about the grants program and we need it tonight so we can then get moving with closing the grants program, assessing the grants and getting the grants out there.

I can show you just on the way out where you can get information about the grant as well.  Once you register, you get access to all the questions people have asked and all the answers that we’ve given.  It’s likely that questions that people will have have already been answered.  If you register on the tenders website, you will get access to all the answers that have been provided previously.  Again, it’s the State Disability Plan website, there’s an Advocacy Futures page and that has a link to where you can get information on the grants.


Felix, Susan Arthur here you know me too well you must get sick of my voice.

Not at all.

Can I say after four years of knowing each other thank you from the bottom of our hearts for putting parents in the Disability Action Plan.  It was much needed and I’m sorry for putting on Facebook that it again wasn’t in the plan when I was reading the old plan.  Sorry about that.

Don’t apologise.

Thank you to whoever made that decision and I look forward to working and PPP look forward to working with you to now working out what does that mean.  And can we maybe make services, offer services to parents with an intellectual disability and education to parents with an intellectual disability and any other disability so that hopefully they don’t lose their children as is what’s happening now.

Thanks Susan that’s very touching of you to say.  What I want to say if you didn’t make the initial phone call it would’ve taken far longer for us to get action in this area.  We need self-advocates like you.  We need parents with disability to speak up that there’s issues.  Unless we hear those stories or testimonials, change won’t happen and they’re still a long way to go.  Thank you, that’s very touching, thanks.

Anyone else before we close up?

(no further questions)

Thank you very much Felix, great update.


Date published:
Thu 14th Feb, 2019