Open or supported employment – what’s the difference?

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Employment has many benefits for people with disability, such as providing the opportunity to develop skills, meet new people and become financially independent.

For people with disability there are two types of employment that are usually categorised as open employment and supported employment.

Finding employment opportunities can be difficult but knowing the difference between open and supported employment can help you to find a job that works for you.

The right job will allow you to achieve your employment goals, as well as any other goals you may have around lifestyle and skills building.

Open employment

Open employment is any job where people with disability and people without disability work together in the same or similar roles.

This includes everything from working in a kitchen at a cafe to being a policeman or working in an office for a Government Department.

Looking for open employment can give you more choice and control over the type of work you do.

One of the major benefits of open employment is that you must be paid at least the minimum wage, which is much higher than the supported employment wage.

This gives you the opportunity to be more financially independent and have your own funds to spend on daily expenses.

Other benefits of open employment include meeting new people, building work skills and experience, and contributing to the community through your work.

Open employment can also be self-employment, where you start your own business or work as a contractor to deliver services.

Self-employment has benefits as well, including that you can choose when you work and all the supports you would like to use, but it does require some extra skills in time management, finances and understanding Government rules.

Just because you are in open employment and not supported employment, doesn’t mean you can’t receive any support.

In open employment, you may need to negotiate with your employer about the supports you receive and discuss with them how this will be paid for.

For example, if you need assistive technology like a screen reader you should talk to your employer about how they can help you to get one.

Funding for assistive technology may be available through a Government funding program and employers do have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to your work environment to make it safe and accessible for you.

If you will need a support worker to attend your workplace this could be more difficult to arrange, but you should talk it through with your employer. Funding for support workers will need to come from your National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan.

You can also get support through mainstream or disability employment services to find and keep open employment.

Supported employment

Supported employment generally refers to a job in an Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE).

This is because people employed by ADEs are paid under the Supported Employment Services Award, which is much less than the minimum wage paid in open employment.

An ADE is usually a not-for-profit organisation that offers employment for people with disability in a range of areas, such as:

  • Packaging
  • Assembly
  • Production
  • Recycling
  • Screen-printing
  • Plant nursery
  • Garden maintenance and landscaping
  • Cleaning services
  • Laundry services
  • Food services

In supported employment, you can receive support for work tasks and personal care, such as help to eat or use the toilet.

Supported employees are often supervised by support workers who can help with tasks and the ADE claims funds from the employee’s NDIS plan to cover the cost of this support.

The main benefits of supported employment are similar to the benefits of all employment – connecting with colleagues, contributing to society, feeling valued for work, spending time away from home and building independence and other skills.

However, this type of employment also offers a supported work environment where people with disability are more likely to find a job and easily have supports set up.

Some people with disability enjoy working in supported employment and the benefits of connecting with their peers, while others prefer the experiences in open employment where employees can earn equal pay.

People with disability who have qualifications or certificates for skilled work are also more likely not to see working in supported employment as appropriate or beneficial because the work is often considered unskilled.

What job opportunities are you considering? Tell us in the comments below.

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