Some don’t see it but Gaynor Starkey knows the link between the Airline Cabin Manager she once was and the Disability Program Coordinator she is now.

“People who perceive airlines to be glamorous think that’s a long way from working with people with a disability. But whether you’re looking after people in a plane or elsewhere, you need to look and really see, to make sure you understand what’s presented to you, and what the needs and risks are. Then you go through these things, evaluate, find ways to help the person and how to make things work. You need to be observant in both these roles, and I’ve got good eyes!

When Ansett folded, Gaynor worked at a hospital with people with dementia and other changed behaviours. She did her social sciences degree and diploma of coordination online while working and managing a family.

“I was very interested in changed behaviour and in people’s ability to participate in community and activities – from the perspective of people’s abilities rather than any disability.”

When she started with SCS about eight years ago, Gaynor ran one program for people with an acquired brain injury. Then, as the NDIS was being rolled out in 2016-17, she built up a second group, open to people with any disability. Last year, when Gaynor became Disability Program Coordinator – Groups, she took 65 clients in eight programs under her wing as well as their NDIS service agreements, quotes, and the many full- and part-time staff that run and support programs. The programs are two Social and Recreational groups, a Walking and an Explorer group, Chatswood Social Club, Different Degrees Theatre Ensemble, 184A (arts) and Creative Movement (dance).

Wednesday social group visiting Taronga Zoo on Zoom which enables virtual meetings during the virus restrictions.

Gaynor says she relies on a fantastic, flexible team at Hunters Hill where the coordinators are all doing things differently during this Covid-19 period. Amanda has been running Zoom programs and Clare has been getting more exercise than ever, taking Walking Group members out individually.

“Wherever we can do individual support and maintain social distance, we’re doing it,” says Gaynor, “Including music with one client and tennis lessons with another. We’re very diverse.”

Gaynor herself has lately been incredibly busy with cleaning equipment and products, readying SCS premises and buses for one-on-one activities they are about to run.

“Every room or vehicle has a mop and they’re all named! And everyone has their cleaning roles,” she says. This hygiene regime is preparation for one-on-one versions of the 184A Art sessions which used to be run weekly at community housing at184A Pittwater Road, Gladesville by SCS’ Margareta Odlin. The Community Hub at Hunters Hill is also running individual services with the participants’ choice of activity.

Chatswood Social Club, Creative Movement dance group, Different Degrees drama group and Sydney Explorers have all been meeting virtually on Zoom, with some enjoying international destinations together, in about 10 hours’ services each week. The switch to virtual meetings has shown Gaynor’s team that many people, whatever their ability, can participate via technology.

“It’s a matter of talking to people who can help. We talk to staff in group homes about equipment, internet, or to families and friends who can help someone get set up.”

One client is legally blind but his family are nearby and were able to support him to set himself up with Zoom to join in a social and recreational group meeting.

“I look at people and their opportunities as being within a ‘circle of care’. We might deliver a service but the client has a circle of care where maybe other services are involved, plus their family and friends. If you spend time communicating around the circle, getting others involved to help give the person an opportunity, then it will work.”

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