HUNTER-based social researcher Hugh Mackay has singled out social fragmentation as the key issue facing modern-day Australians, and it is that challenge which Ability Links NSW is continuing to address.
The program, launched in the Hunter in 2013, works with people with disability, their families and carers, and ensures they have access to support during the early stages of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
It offers a fresh approach to building more inclusive communities through breaking down the social isolation and lack of community connection experienced by many people with disability, including people with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
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Ability Links works with an average 1350 people per year across the Hunter and Central Coast, as well as community organisations, councils, service providers, schools and businesses.
Linkers work alongside people aged 7-64 to forge pathways to education and training, sport and recreation, arts, music and support networks, from offices located throughout the region.
They can visit people in their homes and at other locations and can be flexible about how much time they spend with each person or family.
The results can be life-changing for people who can become socially isolated and disconnected from communities through the challenges they face in everyday life.
It can also facilitate a fundamental shift in the way that others in the community welcome people and consider their needs.
In Newcastle recently to launch his 19th book, ‘Australia Re-imagined’, Mr Mackay said Australians are in the grip of a tidal wave of anxiety and depression.
We are more socially fragmented, more anxious, more depressed, more overweight, more medicated, deeper in debt and increasingly addicted, he said.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, Mr Mackay says, and there is a very simple way to turn that around – through compassion, and connection.
Which is precisely the type of work Ability Links does, working with individuals, families and communities to form partnerships and foster community development to build people’s capacity to be welcoming, accessible and inclusive.
Over the past 12 months, for example, in partnership with businesses and local government, Ability Links has brought the Including You tent to more than 30 key community events.
The Including You tent offers a place to retreat to from noise and crowds and houses sensory tools and other items to support people with disability.
“Having a place for my child to calm down and collect herself is everything at a busy event,” said one mum.
To find out more about the Including You tent, opportunities to volunteer, or to get in touch with a linker, phone 49050700, or visit www.abilitylinksnsw.org.au.