Financial agility is essential for the Centre for Disability Studies

Young people happily talking and relaxing

“Through the help of True Accounting, we’ve all grown in our knowledge of financial management.” – Professor Patricia O’Brien, Director CDS

Established in 1997, the Centre for Disability Studies (CDS) is focused on sharing knowledge that will help improve the lives of people with disabilities. This not for profit organisation, affiliated with the University of Sydney for research, is structured across three distinct pillars:

  • education and training
  • health and clinical services
  • research and innovation.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic they have had to pivot their services and are finding new ways to deliver their innovative programs and workshops.

We spoke with Professor Patricia O’Brien, the Director of CDS, about their vast array of projects and their relationship with True Accounting.

CDS works with the community

Three pillars of CDS

CDS’s mission is to “create and disseminate knowledge that improves the lives of people with disability.” Their programs are developed with clear goals in mind and their work is guided by the lived experience of people with disability.

They actively engage people with disability for their input in the creation, development and execution of their extensive programs, to make sure they deliver successful outcomes. Patricia explains,

“Our first pillar is education and training. We customise training for non-government organisations that work in the area of disability, mental health and vulnerability. As part of this we teach a diploma in community services and also run a set of public workshops.

Our second pillar is working with health and clinical services. These projects are orientated towards supporting people with disability in areas associated with health and wellbeing. From a training perspective, our staff coach professionals in the area of Allied Health to work in a ‘person centred’ way. At the moment we have a group of staff working regionally – close to Orange in Western NSW.

CDS training health profressionals

We have also trained a group of ‘therapy facilitators’ who work in remote areas… where an Allied Health professional may only visit once per term, our therapy facilitators implement and monitor the therapy plan that the Allied Health professional has instigated.

Our third pillar is in research and innovation. Here we are open to doing commissioned research from NGOs. We bid for research across well-known funding areas. Recently we were awarded an Australian Research Council grant where people with intellectual disability will be interviewed to gain insight into their experience of having individualised support packages.

Other work we’ve done relates to finding out what are the characteristics required both in the community and in services associated with people living individual lives… in places they have chosen to live such as a shared house or their own apartments with drop in support staff.”

CDS is dedicated to inclusivity and they work closely with stakeholders across the community to better the outcomes for people with disabilities.

CDS new program ideas

Rolling with Resilience program

The newest program initiated by CDS is Rolling with Resilience. It is funded by a NSW Government grant under the Stronger Country Communities Fund. Patricia outlines the program:

“We have a whole raft of programs and a range of interactive workshops… different ways we can mentor and coach people. The focus of the program is to develop resilient lives. We put this proposal together knowing that some regional areas have been terribly impacted. There has been drought, fire and now COVID-19.

We are making contact with two regional areas… one is the Murray region and the other is the Yass region.

We are reaching out to key personnel in those areas that have direct contact with people who have been affected by fire, floods, drought and COVID – particularly vulnerable groups, which could be aged care, people with disability, mental health or youth.

We have a set of workshops designed that help people look at what it means to cope under these circumstances. The workshops can be run over a couple of hours or a session that goes over a full day. We are just opening the door on that at the moment – getting in touch with the people that head up those regional areas.

CDS virtual workshops

Originally, we were meant to be doing the workshops face to face and we would have had staff down around the Murray already.

They would have been there now talking with people… but now we are working out how we will do this through Zoom. With the COVID-19 restrictions, these will now need to be digital sessions.

There are two rounds of workshops scheduled, so hopefully by the time we get to the second round there will be more opening up of the community. We hope it will be safer for people to travel and we will be able to facilitate face to face.

The main outcome of the program is that we are hoping people will gain a sense of belonging and increased self-esteem.

We also want to match people’s needs with what we actually produce – making sure that actions come out of the sessions and people go home and do some of the new activities, or put new steps in place to improve their lives.

We hope that we build strong relationships and help them rebuild the community for people who are vulnerable.”

CDS government stimulus support

Impact of COVID-19

Like many other not for profit organisations, CDS has felt the impact of COVID-19. With so many of their workshops and programs facilitated face to face, they have had to reassess the delivery of their programs and move to digital platforms.

Plus, they have successfully accessed government stimulus support. When the financial packages were first announced, they turned to True Accounting for advice. Patricia tells us,

“We immediately talked to True Accounting when COVID hit… they are always financially up to date with what’s needed for NFPs. Glenn Murray, our account manager, discussed everything with us and they are managing it now for us.”

CDS working with AFG

Partnering with True Accounting

CDS was originally located within the Royal Rehab facility and all their accounting was managed in-house by the Royal Rehab finance team. But when the organisation moved, they needed to find their own accountancy solution. This is when the partnership with True Accounting started. Patricia explains,

“The board at CDS had some members who were connected with other NGOs and they talked about True Accounting. They were described to us as having extensive experience supporting NGOs to manage their own finances… so we reached out to them.

I’d heard people always speak so warmly of Morri and then, when Kirsten and the team visited, the relationship was secured. They set up new systems for us and those systems included Xero. I think we became much more financially savvy as a result of the systems they introduced for us. Xero is very accessible. It’s a great system.

I think in some ways, through the help of True Accounting, we’ve all grown in our knowledge of financial management… enough so that when Glenn comes to a leaders’ meeting, he goes through the cost centres under each pillar and all the pillar leaders have become very adept at discussing financial matters with him.

As a result of moving to True Accounting we’ve become much more agile as a staff in financial management – knowing when we need to signal to Glenn that we have some issues. It’s been so beneficial.

Glenn is also very good at looking at complex budgets that go into our grant proposals… it’s great to have him there to advise on our grant applications. In my position as director, if there are any financial glitches, AFG is always there.”


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