I have known Todd Liubinskas for over 15 years.
After a friend introduced us, I trained with him for many years. More recently, I’ve really admired the work he’s doing with Disability Support Service, What Ability.
What Ability has a great mission: to bring happiness to people living with a disability. They aren’t your average support service and they do things slightly differently, by using professional and semi-professional sportspeople as disability support workers. But, as I found out when I caught up with Todd for a chat recently, you don’t have to be a sportsperson to get involved – and they’re currently expanding their services across the country.
Hi Todd, it’s been a while since we trained together but I hear you’ve been busy with What Ability. Tell us a bit about it?
What Ability is a disability support service. We specialise in community access but what makes us unique is that many of our support workers are professional and semi-professional athletes and our number one focus is on fun and happiness. Our clients are between four and 64 years old. Many are covered under the NDIS but that’s not essential.
What Ability is on a mission to make happiness come first and to enhance the clients’ perception of what’s possible by taking them out into the community to have fun. While you may think of disability support services being OT, speech therapy or learning, we focus on other life-enhancing things. We arrange outings like going to the footy, timezone, Flipout, the beach, having a coffee – that whole lifestyle area that can get neglected or overlooked but is so important.
How did What Ability get started?
Our Founder and CEO, Steve Dresler, was a rising NRL player when he was forced into early retirement due to injury. He ended up working at Giant Steps, a special education school in Gladesville. It showed him the benefits athletes could bring as support workers but also that lots of families need support. He created What Ability as a result.
So how did you get involved, Todd?
I came on board this year to head up partnerships. We partner with clubs, brands, events, organisations, and others to unlock unique experiences – we sent 100 clients to the State of Origin the other week for example. Beyond going to the footy, we might be playing mini-golf, trampolining, going for bushwalks, jet skiing or running holiday camps.
I was really keen to get involved with What Ability because although I’d previously worked in the sport and fitness industry, when I was growing up my mum was a disability worker and I went with her to work on school holidays. So this field was always part of my life from a young age and it felt like a natural step to join Steve.
We’re currently growing fast. Right now What Ability operates in three states – NSW QLD and WA, where we’re about to launch this month. We’re aiming to add Victoria, South Australia and New Zealand by the end of the year.
Who are some of the sportspeople working with What Ability that we may know and what activities do you do?
Athletes who work with us come from a range of professional and semi-professional sports like Rugby League, Netball, Cricket, Football, Basketball and more. We’ve worked with sportspeople like Kennedy Cherrington, Luke Garner, Lauren Cheatle, Angus Bell, Dylan Brown, Maddy Proud and Allie Smith.
We do around 20 camps each year, mostly near the Hawkesbury, where they can go paddleboarding or jetskiing and do outdoor activities. A lot of families come to us to have a bit of a break. We also take clients to the movies, coffee, and sports events, pick them up after school for a few hours, and much more. We support all types of adventures and tailor them to the client.
It’s a great service, Todd, what have you achieved and how can people get involved?
Other than the fun you mean? We’re trying to get awareness out – break the stigma, break down the barriers and have fun.
The feedback we get on our services is phenomenal. Our activities may be fun but they also cause a change and have a flow-on effect for how our clients act in other activities. It’s mood-lifting when they go home or get back to school. Families get a break, and there’s a lifestyle change too. We’re working through challenges and making their everyday life better.
There are around 4.4 million people living with disability in Australia. We have a lot of work to do to bring people and organisations on board and give them the help, care, assistance and happiness they need. We support a wide range of clients. We have participants who can drive and work full-time right through to clients who need multiple support workers.
If you know someone of any age living with a disability who may like to get involved in our activities, visit WhatAbility.com.au.
You can also find out about becoming a support worker at our website. You’ll obviously need a Working With Children Check and a Police check but we can hook you up with the appropriate training.
A lot of people are finding a career in Disability Support – it’s a shortage industry and there’s a great career in it. You can get paid, you get to do fun stuff, you’re bringing smiles to faces, kicking a footy, going for a swim or grabbing a coffee. It’s a pretty good job and very rewarding if you have time, care and patience.
Sounds very rewarding. Thanks for the chat, Todd! You can find out more about What Ability and how to get involved at their website.
Photo credits: Whats Ability website