The Diamonds community choir

OPINION: The risk of social isolation when moving into retirement is a very real prospect for people with intellectual disabilities, which is why dedicated support and transition planning is critical, writes Serhat Oguz.

Serhat Oguz
Serhat Oguz

There are many challenges to retiring for people with intellectual disabilities, including a lack of knowledge about life after work options and limited social connections in the broader community. That is why we established the community-based service, Life After Work program, which commenced as a pilot program in 2011.

Life After Work gives new retirees a support system that can give them a voice in their own lives and educate them about their choices for the future.

The difficulty for many people upon retirement is finding a replacement for the social connections and meaningful activities that work can provide. Through this initiative we want to ensure that people maintain the friendships and connections they acquired in the workplace and further build on these by providing a wide variety of mainstream community initiatives, including engagement in art, music, gardening and social outings.

A burgeoning issue

Just as the Australian population is ageing so too is the Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE) workforce, which employs more than 20,000 Australians with permanent and significant disability in supported employment.

Government research conducted in 2009 anticipated that the number of people with a disability aged over 50 will represent close to half the supported workforce in 2025. That is why programs that support people with a disability to transition to retirement are so important.

One participant in Life After Work is Dale, who has a long history at Windgap, having worked in the ADE for nearly 30 years, and who is living in one of Windgap’s residential group homes. Dale has a passion for singing, and through the Life After Work program, he has helped create a community choir, the Diamonds, comprising of people from across the area with a similar love of song. Since its inception, the Diamonds have won numerous community awards and produced two CDs.

Dale has also completed a radio broadcasting course, and has produced a radio program on a local community radio station. Through these initiatives, Dale has expanded his social networks, developed new friendships and learned new skills.

For people in the Life After Work program, their voice is powerful, and they deserve to choose the lifestyle that suits them best as an individual. They are supported to discover what that looks like, what changes they should be prepared for and in turn, what their contribution to the wider community could look like.

It starts with talking about what retirement means, including family members or guardians in the discussions, understanding what will change and how to deal with that change, and other practical matters such as income.

The next step is trying out new activities and experiences, connecting with like-minded people and contributing to the community in ordinary and extraordinary ways.

Serhat Oguz is CEO of the Windgap Foundation.

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