A voice for the ’forgotten’

Jeff Shaw leads from the front for better disability support. 193881_01 Picture: CAM LUCADOU-WELLS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Long ignored, belittled and ostracised by his disability service providers, Jeff Shaw didn’t give up.

Inspiringly, Jeff decided to create his own provider Give A Care – because he struggled to find one that cared.

“If I didn’t do anything, who would?”

In 2007, the 38-year-old single dad and plasterer was floored by a major stroke. It was an event that could derail anyone – but Jeff is not anyone.

Jeff’s brain’s cerebellum was damaged, impairing his balance and speech. Until recent years, he was restricted to communicating with a white board.

None of his support providers listened to what he wanted, nor seemed to care, Jeff said.

“It gets hard when you have to speak on a whiteboard.

“You can’t get in arguments or debates. You can’t use the phone at all.”

For 11 months, Jeff lived in an aged care facility in the Yarra Valley, unable to contact his seven-year-old son nor have contact with people of his own age.

Jeff had also lost control of his finances, and when he could wash, eat or go out.

During a department review of his provide, Jeff discovered he was funded for 34 hours a week of support. Just three hours a week was supplied.

There’s stories that show others being treated with contempt, and without a voice to speak up.

A friend has been saddled in a borrowed wheelchair, which the provider has been in no rush to replace over the past six months.

Another frustrated resident lived in “squalor” at her facility – “you wouldn’t put a dog in there”, Jeff said.

“We’re taught to think that they’re helping these poor people. But clearly they’re taking the money and not helping them.

“It’s like taking candy from a baby, and it’s wrong.”

Eventually – and literally – Jeff recovered his voice.

In 2013, using an inheritance from his late father, Jeff created Give A Care to give himself real choice over his support.

It has since branched out to serve other people with a disability, who can choose their own workers online.

Give A Care is now reaching out to Melbourne’s South East to join 400 clients and 150 staff on its books. It pays above award-wage to its Certificate-III and IV qualified workforce.

Its support workers’ happiness is just as important as its clients’, Jeff says.

The firm is also working towards earning the LGBTIQ Rainbow Tick – the first disability service provider to do so.

Give A Care general manager Cristina Karvonidis describes the agile enterprise as “light years ahead”.

“I come from a corporate background. This is the most glamorous job I’ve ever had because I’m grateful for Jeff to let me focus on looking after people and our own employees.

Soon his non-profit Give A Care Foundation will be launched, tackling the social isolation commonly suffered by people with disabilities.

It will provide outings, laughs and fun for children and the “forgotten“ adults who aren’t able to go out in the community.

It also offers corporate partners and sponsors a chance to volunteer and make a difference.

Details: giveacare.com.au