Winners and Finalists of the 2017 Disability Industry Innovation Awards

Minister’s Award for Excellence:

The Minister’s Award for excellence recognises the outstanding achievements made by one non-government, community based organisation or individual working in the industry. The winner was selected from the winners across all other categories as best demonstrating the commitment, creativity, ability to adapt and outcome-focus that is integral to innovation.


Winner: Lifestart

With finalists in three categories this year, Lifestart has shown excellent initiative with several outstanding projects. It is for this reason that Lifestart was awarded the Minister's Award for Excellence as a whole organisation in recognition of its continued commitment to improving outcomes for people with disability.

Excellence in Indigenous programs

thomas butler

Winner: Thomas Butler

Thomas Butler is an Aboriginal Elder who has developed a culture group, mentorship and support program with The Disability Trust, specifically designed for young Indigenous men with disability. Utilising a blend of modern and traditional tools and techniques, Thomas assists the young men to develop their everyday life-skills, as well as providing education about their culture, language and health. In its third year, participants of the program have been able to engage at a richer level with both their own Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, building stronger long term relationships and futures.

brooke joy

Finalist: Brooke Joy

Brooke Joy is a Boandik woman who joined Lifestart in 2015 as Aboriginal Practice Lead / Senior Educator. Brooke has promoted the needs and built the capacity of Indigenous people with a disability. Her innovation, creativity and commitment are demonstrated through her many achievements - examples include leading Lifestart’s first Reconciliation Action Plan, developing partnerships, and the development of Yarning Tools to assist Indigenous individuals with planning, choice and self-determination.


Excellence in promoting cultural competency

winner northcott

Winner: Northcott

Northcott’s Cultural Diversity Competency Framework is adaptable and sustainable, and meets the needs and preferences of not only CALD people with disability, but their families and carers, as well as of service providers. The project was a critical initiative in building the capacity of the disability sector to work with a diverse workforce and client population in the transition to a person-centred service system and the NDIS. The tools developed include video case studies, self-reflection questionnaires and self-assessment elements.

settlement services

Finalist: Settlement Services International

SSI’s Ability Links NSW project supports people with disability, their families and carers, by building on their strengths and skills. Staff work closely with participants to discuss their goals and the best ways to achieve them, whether it be sport, education, volunteering or community networking. Another project, FutureAbility, was developed to specifically research and report on the prevalence and extent of disability among culturally and linguistically diverse communities, resulting in a ‘DataCube’ which is available free of charge online.


Leadership in community accessibility and inclusion

centre for disabilitystudies usyd

Winner: Centre for Disability Studies, University of Sydney

The Centre for Disability Studies designed, planned and implemented ‘uni 2 beyond’, an Inclusive Education Program at the University of Sydney incorporating vocational pathways through internships and links to corporate Australia. To date, uni 2 beyond has supported 23 students with intellectual disability to fulfil their dream of attending university across nine of the 16 faculties and has involved close to 100 peer mentors.

lifestart sydneyoperahouse

Finalist: Lifestart and the Sydney Opera House

Accessible Babies Proms builds on the long history at the Sydney Opera House of providing a unique, intimate and joyful introduction to orchestral music for pre-school children by making them accessible to children with disability. They have been highlighted by families as making a real difference to their sense of inclusion in the community.

finalist northcott

Finalist: Northcott

Newly-arrived refugees with disability often lack basic mobility aids and equipment to facilitate movement. Northcott’s Refugee Equipment Project sought donations of previously-used equipment to facilitate integration of refugees with disability into Australian society. With correctly fitted equipment, a refugee with disability has been proven to have a better chance at transitioning into Australian life.

early connections

Finalist: Early Connections Mid North Coast

‘Accept Difference’ is a social awareness campaign which began with a television commercial based on a family’s experience. The campaign focuses on promoting positive personal stories and examples of inclusion. The television commercial has received 8.5 million views online and has been translated into several languages.


Excellence in person-centred service provision

damon taylor

Winner: Damon Taylor

Damon is a nurse, mother and carer of her 10-year-old son with severe cerebral palsy. Damon designed the ‘Care for Me’ app as a way of storing several types of care information in one place. The app assists in recording and monitoring behavioural, educational and other changes, via text or video. Damon says, “The most real and tangible difference to lives of people with a disability comes within my home from looking after my son. His needs are forever changing as he grows and I can document changes in his care such as new transfer techniques and how to decipher some characteristics of his to assist him to communicate his needs and help him to feel safe.” The app remains unique to date and it increases collaboration between service providers and families by ensuring all involved are equally aware of a person with disability’s care requirements.

matt cassels

Finalist: Matt Cassels

Matt Cassels works for RED Inc as a Music Program Facilitator and Support Coordinator. Matt was nominated for his work with the band ‘The Brotherhood of the Blues’ which started with a line-up of three young Aboriginal men with disability and evolved and grew quickly. With Matt’s guidance, the band recorded their first EP in 2015 and toured shortly after; a major highlight for the band has been performing for two nights at the Byron Bay Blues Festival in 2016. Since then, the Brotherhood of the Blues has been paid to perform, MC and present at community sector events.

Leadership in employment inclusion


Winner (joint): Martin Wren

Martin, CEO of NOVA Employment, continues to champion employment as a means promoting inclusion of people with disabilities. The list of Martin’s campaigning is lengthy and broad in scope: major television and radio campaigns, billboards, bus skins, direct mailing, and story sharing via unique distribution methods. Martin has also written a book on people with disability attempting to enter the workforce, and has initiated a film festival, now in its eight year.

Winner (joint): Jigsaw (Fighting Chance Australia)

Jigsaw is a social enterprise that leverages its commercial activity in order to provide employment, work experience and support to people with disability in NSW. It aims to build the capacity of the disability workforce to match or exceed productivity and quality levels of mainstream competitors, creating jobs for people with disability, paid at or above award wages. Jigsaw provides practical training, skill development and work experience opportunities as well as forming transitional pathways into mainstream roles.

Excellence in regional innovation

lifestart online
Winner: Lifestart’s Online Therapy

Lifestart’s Online Therapy provides young people living with disability or developmental delay and their families the opportunity to access the support of experienced professionals. Key elements of the project include training for families and staff in using the selected technology as well as establishment of protocol to ensure engagement with local communities, with an emphasis on using the natural environments and everyday activities of the children and young people. Achievements included selecting an appropriate online platform, engaging with the whole family and community and finding new ways to work in evidence based models online.

Innovation in improving outcomes for children and young people

family planning
Winner (joint): Family Planning NSW

Family Planning’s Sexuality and Relationships Forums provide parents and carers of people with disability with an intensive half-day program to build their knowledge and confidence in providing sexuality support. Covering a diverse range of topics, the forums offer resources, workshops, evidence-based information and opportunities to connect with other carers. A multidisciplinary team including relationship counsellors, psychologists, sexuality educators, sexual health nurses and doctors ensures that parents have access to expert information and advice.

Winner (joint): Royal Far West

Royal Far West’s Telecare platform has delivered therapy to 477 children with speech and language delays, occupational therapy needs, psychological and sensory processing delays and disabilities. They have created strong partnerships and engagement with local communities, including schools, preschools and home settings. After evaluating the delivery of service via telecare, Royal Far West found that children achieved their goals as effectively as if they were attending regular sessions. Parents also report an increased ability to interact positively with their child and to understand their goals.

Finalist: Plumtree

Plumtree set out to transform the family experience of the disability sector and preparation for the NDIS by developing several innovative resources through its ‘Now and Next’ Program. One of the resources is an eight week evidence-based peer learning program that has already had 82 family members participate, 65% of whom are from a CALD background. Another resource called ‘Pictability’, takes the form of an e-book in which families co-create plans for action, celebrate progress, reflect and adapt. Rather than leaving progress notes only in the hands of professionals, ‘Now and Next’ allocates this role to families.


Judging Panel

Karen Bevan

CEO, Playgroup NSW

Shae Gibson

Project Manager, My Choice Matters

Jim Longley

Deputy Secretary, Ageing, Disability and Home Care

Mark Tonga

Chair, Disability Council NSW


NDS wishes to thank the judging panel for the significant time and energy they put in to make the NSW Disability Industry Innovation Awards possible.