Digital tools help Wallara share the stories of people with disabilities

What happens when a sports-mad CEO joins a small NGO charity for people with disabilities? To start with, a technical upgrade for its “coaches” for remote support.

The charitable sector isn’t exactly known for its cutting edge technology, but Wallara is not your average charity.

“We’ve invested a lot in our digital side,” said CEO Phil Hayes-Brown. “When I came here, our IT was quite substandard, as charities often encounter, and we apologized for our tools. I wanted to make our IT something to be proud of, something that would become one of our business cards, not one of our excuses.”

Technology to be proud of has been a game-changer for a company looking to normalize intellectual disability.

“We want to tell the stories,” said Phil, who was recently named Most Outstanding CEO of the… Australian Disability Service Awards 2022

Not that he would tell you that himself — he’s much more interested in sharing his client’s stories than his own.

“What do people with intellectual disabilities do? How do they contribute to their societies, to their communities?” he says. “We do that physically if possible, but we are increasingly reaching people virtually through online Microsoft tools.”

The impact of COVID meant Wallara accelerated their daily activities using Microsoft Teams† It’s a change that has helped staff in more than 30 locations connect and collaborate with each other — and brought their teams together in ways Phil could not have predicted.

“To get all the Wallara staff to call in and see their faces on the screen, and talk to them about what’s happening – [the change] has been remarkable,” he says.

The ability to deliver online sessions to people with disabilities and their families has also proven to be a breakthrough, as Phil explains in the Empowering Opportunities: Modernizing Your Business Masterclass on Kochie’s Business Builders

“For many people with disabilities, communication is very difficult, so the family members are looking for more connection and involvement,” Phil says in the webinar. “If we can close that gap, and technology is the best way to close that gap, that’s really empowering. For example, we learn to live independently, so that you learn to wash and iron and other things. There is a real loss of knowledge when people leave a generic facility and go to their own laundry. But if you deliver that to their home via video with their own machine, you can really tweak things and tailor things to the individual.”

For Windows users like Wallara, the odds are even more promising with the latest Windows 11 Pro devices powered by the Intel vPro® platform. Windows 11 has improved the inclusive design and is new features of assistive technology increasing accessibility for everyone.

The importance of connection and collaboration

For Phil, the ability to still have “water cooler conversations” remotely, not just sequential meetings, was just as important. “You have to be able to connect with people and just say ‘how are you?’ as opposed to meetings scheduled all the time,” he notes. “It liberated us in a way.”

Wallara has always been about connection and collaboration – coming together to support people of different abilities. Phil’s daughter Phoebe is a client of Wallara because she is nonverbal and lives with an intellectual disability. She was Phil’s introduction to the world of the disabled.

“I remember thinking, ‘I have no idea what adults with disabilities do,'” he says. “I started working at Wallara and I still had no idea, but I knew they were doing important work and I didn’t want to mess it up.”

That important work spans Wallara’s three main service streams: housing (they operate eight assisted living homes in southeastern Melbourne for up to 42 people), community access and education (they offer in-person and online training), and paid employment in logistics, horticulture and catering. One of their largest supported work opportunities is in their logistics warehouse, where approximately 140 employees are responsible for sorting, packing and shipping for clients such as Myer and even distributing COVID air purifiers to Victorian schools.

Students in one of Wallara's on-site computer classes

Students in one of Wallara’s on-site computer classes. Image Source: Provided by Wallara.

Support coaches bring out the best

Phil came to Wallara after years of working in the sports industry – he has worked at both Hawthorn Football Clubs and served as director for Asia Pacific at the National Basketball Association for 12 years. It is therefore not surprising that employees of the disabled care at Wallara are referred to as guidance coaches and that the team is the playing group.

“I didn’t think about the title [disability support worker] was a reflection of the importance of the work, so we turned it into a supportive coach,” says Phil. “We have 500 athletes, 500 players who want to be the best they can be and about 200 supportive coaches who work with them daily to help them get there. It’s kind of what we do.”

The power of digital reach

Their latest tool to make that possible is Wallara Online, which they launched during COVID in an effort to keep their customers connected and learning. A live coach leads each lesson and clients can sign up for training in everything from life skills, social skills and literacy to work-related learning in technology, horticulture, retail and hospitality. The program recently won the Most Outstanding Remote Service Program at the Disability Service Awards.

“We’ve recognized the power of digital reach,” says Phil. “You don’t have to live in Dandenong [to access our services], you could be anywhere. So we now have customers from all over Australia starting with us.”

Overall, Phil is genuinely amazed at the work done by many wonderful people every day. “Good news stories are hard to tell,” he admits. “But when people are purposefully brought together, they can achieve great things. It doesn’t matter where they start.”

Is your hybrid workplace doing great things digitally, like Wallara? Discover the latest collaboration, productivity and security benefits from Modern Windows 11 devices powered by the Intel vPro platform here

This article is brought to you by Startup Daily in association with Microsoft.

Feature Image: Included

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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