Frontline Initiative Later Life Supports

Transition to retirement:
Creating opportunities for social inclusion

The right of people with disabilities to be fully included in society is a well-established policy goal. Yet, people with disabilities continue to be excluded from many social experiences that people without disabilities often take for granted. In the Transition to Retirement research project, we supported 27 older Australian adults with a lifelong disability to join local community or volunteer groups. Here we share one person’s story.

Graeme has been very shy for most of his life. During the retirement planning process, Graeme talked about his passion for plants. Therefore, we decided to try supporting Graeme to volunteer at a local community nursery. At first the ideas was very threatening to Graeme. It meant that Graeme would have to meet new people and face changes to his routine. Graeme also had reservations because his retirement plan resulted in less pay each week. With encouragement from staff, family members and the research team, Graeme eventually decided to give the nursery a try. A large part of what reassured Graeme was learning a new travel route to the nursery. This route included using a bus, a train, and then a short walk to the nursery. A great deal of trust was built between Graeme and the training staff while Graeme was learning to travel the route independently. 

Once Graeme was at the nursery, a trainer was employed to act as a trusted social buffer for Graeme. Over time, this role was gradually reduced, and then fully withdrawn. Volunteers and employees at the nursery were offered training in how to serve as a mentor. The mentors at the nursery taught Graeme many new skills needed to work in a nursery. Graeme has now volunteered at the community nursery for over one year. He travels alone to the nursery and participates with no support from disability support staff. Graeme socializes with more than 10 other volunteers each week at the community nursery. Here is what Graeme says about the group:

“I like coming here to join in with all these ones [other volunteers]. My life changed a lot coming here…meeting all the ones [volunteers]. I like having morning tea with all the others and having a joke with Martin.” 

Volunteers at the nursery are teaching Graeme how to write. Graeme’s learning of these new skills has had a great impact on his self-confidence. Much more than any of us could have imagined. Graeme’s support staff have observed that he is friendlier to other residents at his home. He is also more willing to socialize with people he doesn’t know in the community. Graeme’s sister told us that his attitude toward growing independence has changed, and that he now has new topics to talk with others about. Graeme has been filmed in a DVD resource describing the research project. He has also travelled to national conferences to do presentations. 

Graeme’s story helps us understand how to successfully create opportunities for social inclusion. 

The key ingredients are —

  • A person who is willing to try something new,

  • Mentors who believe in what is possible, and

  • Skilled staff to begin the process and other group members.  

This project suggests that people without disabilities are more than willing to welcome people with a disability into their group. Individuals with and without disabilities must be supported and have opportunities for social inclusion in order for everyone to join and succeed as a community. 

To learn more about this research project you can view the DVD titled, Transition to Retirement and/or read an article on the active mentoring model published in the Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability. See the resources section in this newsletter for more information on both of these resources.

Adapted with permission from Wilson, N., Stancliffe, R. J., Bigby, C., Gambin, N., Craig, D. & Balandin, S. (2012). Creating opportunities for social inclusion: Insights from a research project that supported older adults with a lifelong disability to join local community or volunteer groups. Voice, April 2012 (Down Syndrome Victoria and Down Syndrome NSW Members’ Journal), 4-6.

The Transition to Retirement research project was supported under the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme (Project number: LP0989241) and with the assistance of two industry partners: The Australian Foundation for Disability (AFFORD) and St. John of God, Accord. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council or the industry partners.