Podcasts and the NDIS - there's never been a better time!

Two years ago, and by way of supplementing my audio work, I took on a part-time job as a carer for a woman living with a disability. I had no formal qualifications, just a hunch that I might be suited to the job and I was right. Rather than work for the service provider, I worked for a family at their home where I slept, cooked, washed, clothed and cared for a forty-six year old woman – who for the sake of privacy, I’ll call Sarah. Unable to speak, Sarah made noises to communicate. She endured serious tonic clonic seizures, needed constant supervision, and had a small team of helpers.

Getty Image

Getty Image

I recall my first outing with Sarah, her arms flailing and blood curdling screams we walked the promenade at Maroochydore. Just the two of us in a crowd of cafe goers. Some people left as we sat down to order coffee and Sarah started banging the table. Looking back on it I can see Sarah was having a ball. I was very uncomfortable.

Little by little, after spending time with Sarah and her family, and going out in public, I started to see things more for what they were. The mother was the doorway through to the daughter, having committed her life to supporting Sarah and keeping a close eye on what was going on. Some days were very tough. Sarah could be moody and aggressive and there were constant issues with her digestion and medications. But on good days she could be gentle and demonstrative, or over the moon, yelling and laughing. It was fun, and even though I never could tell what was in store for me when I arrived, my life was surely the richer.

One year after I began my job, I pitched to Sarah’s mum the idea of producing a podcast series based around families who were, just like her, self managing their loved ones at home. Sarah’s mum was in her early seventies, had little idea what a podcast was, let alone ever having listened to one. But this was a woman who’d fought tooth and nail for her daughter - it was her mettle - and badly wanted to hear these sorts of stories out. I showed her what a podcast was, how to download one. We looked at the huge array of podcasts now available, how Australian audiences were growing, and discussed how podcasts were a good fit for these types of story: affording an intimate, interior audio experience and convenient for listeners who could listen on their mobile devices most anywhere. I suggested we ask some of her fellow self directing families in her network to see if they’d agree to have their story told. Next thing she was volunteering a range of people and the project had started.

As both an apprentice carer and a veteran radio producer who’s always on the lookout for worthy stories, there were two other things I knew. Firstly, these lesser-told, lesser-heard voices from the disability sector, often (though not always) make for extraordinary stories. In their ordinary extraordinariness, they are testaments to the family unit and their determination, strength and love in the face of endless government policies and red tape. They also reflect back to us ‘normal’ folk what it means to live in a world that often doesn’t want to listen, or offer up any real meaningful control. I figured if I worked alongside interviewees and their families, let people speak for themselves, let them play, laugh, read poetry or even cry, then I could produce a podcast series that would melt the hardest of hearts. This is the realm of the radio documentary maker. Here was my challenge.

Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, the National Disability Insurance Scheme has shifted things significantly. People who are living with disabilities, and their families, are able to call the shots. Whether looking for a regular day to day service, live-in home care, or simply a tradie to fit a light bulb, how they spend their precious NDIS dollars is their call. This is in stark contrast to just a few years ago where choices were few, and the money went straight to the disability services. Now there are literally thousands of people who come under the NDIS who are able be picky about who they do business with. And many are shopping around and sussing out organisations like never before. As a result, many disability services are now seeking to throw off any whiff of institutions and remodel themselves as flexible and dynamic agencies that have something for everyone. Some are rebranding themselves, some are going under because it’s a shift too far, and others are remodelling themselves as social enterprise and offering clients opportunities to get out in the workforce; whether mowing lawns or working as baristas - and to get paid for it.

Podcasts that imaginatively showcase real people’s lives and their remarkable journeys are a great proposition for disability services and agencies at this point in time. When produced by audio storytellers who know what they’re doing, and avoid being needlessly sentimental or cliche, these stories offer up a refreshing alternative to the mind numbing bureaucratic health-sector speak that leaves many for dead. And in the disability sector, there are so many great stories: of courage, humility and strength; of pain and loneliness and positive transformation. With the transformation occuring thanks to the NDIS, it is surely time to champion these stories: to engage the broader public, provide new role models, and give these remarkable people who are involved in the disability sector their moment on the centre stage.   

Personalised storytelling is hardwired into the human condition. It helps us make meaning of the world and connect with each others. Many people living with disability are often isolated and not surprisingly, highly internet savvy and wanting to connect. Podcasts today offer an intimate, timely and a cost effective way to communicate across the sector. If your stories are genuine and well produced, they will reflect well on your business and prompt listeners to follow a call to action.

There’s never been a better time.

Hamish Sewell is a radio producer, oral historian, podcaster and the founder of the geo locative audio immersive storytelling project, Soundtrails. If you'd like to find out more, visit his website on storiedland.com or email him on hamishsewell@gmail.com