Podcast Episode 5: The unique intersection between NDIS and DES

Get ready to dive into an exciting journey as we uncover the ways in which the NDIS services and our Disability Employment Services can work together to deliver better outcomes for participants with Jack Aarons and Eli Van Aalst. 

And, we have a special musical treat for you at the end of the episode. 

Listen our new full episode here:

You can watch the episode here:

Full episode transcripts here:


Brad Webb: Welcome to the latest episode of "Embrace Your Otherness", Castle's inaugural podcast series. It's a space where we have some casual and in-depth conversation with disability community members, leaders, and activists about disability, identity, culture, work, and rights, with an emphasis on challenging people's perceptions and raising awareness about marginalized identities.

My name is Brad Webb and I'm thrilled to be both the CEO of Castle and the host of this podcast series. Castle Services operate from the lands of the Darkinjung people to the south, the Awabakal people to the east, the Worimi people to the north, and the Wonnarua people to the west. I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of these lands where we work and live. I pay my respects to the Elders of these lands, past, present, and emerging.

We've got a great conversation ahead of us today. Castle operates both Disability Employment Services funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services and NDIS services. And today we are gonna be talking about the ways in which the NDIS services and our Disability Employment Services can work together to deliver better outcomes for participants.

Today, we are joined by Eli Van Aalst and Jack Aarons. Eli, you've had support here from Castle for about five years and you started in the DES program in 2017, and now you're working at Coles, three nights a week. And you were initially supported on the job by our DES team, and now you've moved across and you're getting some supports from our NDIS team as well as coming to some of the social supports.

Eli Van Aalst: Yep, yep.

Brad Webb: Can you tell us some more about you, Eli?

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, I've been working at Coles for quite a while, for five years, I like it. I just help customers and all kind of stuff like pack trucks and all kind of stuff, just keeping on a truck and that's about it.

Brad Webb: Yeah, fantastic. And you get to hang out with this other chap here, Jack.

Jack, you had an interesting story 'cause you came into Castle first as a DES participant back in 2021. And then you quickly moved into actually working for Castle as a disability support worker. You work with Eli one-on-one, but you also run the video gaming group at Belmont and other things. So tell us a little bit about you, Jack.

Jack Aarons: So I went to Castle for... It was about... So I went in as a DES participant, and after a couple of days I got actually offered a job and been with him ever since for 12 months. So I run the gaming group Wednesday, Friday, work with him a lot, a lot of others. And yeah, it's good making their day, taking them anywhere they wanna go, golfing, fishing.

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, me caught a lot of fish last Friday. I caught a lot of fish last Friday.

Brad Webb: You go fishing together?

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, last Friday we went fishing. I caught three fishes, he caught none, I mean he caught one.

Brad Webb: I might come back to the fishing. You go in, you've got a great job there at Coles.

Eli Van Aalst: Yep, I like it.

Brad Webb: And you were telling me before about working throughout COVID-

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, COVID and all that kind of stuff.

Jack Aarons: Like helping people out find stuff.

Eli Van Aalst: Helping people find stuff and all that stuff.

Brad Webb: And it was all a bit crazy in that time.

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, it was, but now it's not.

Brad Webb: You are one of the few people, frontline worker that had to get out when all of us were in lockdown and working from home, you got to go to work. At work, tell me about, you have work mates and colleagues that you like and enjoy seeing.

Eli Van Aalst: I like seeing my friends who I work with and they were good, especially with Jack from Castle and everyone else, so yeah.

Jack Aarons: You've got Gary and Tom.

Eli Van Aalst: Gary and Tom, Tim, Anne and everyone else who's there.

Brad Webb: Yeah and you're at the Belmont Coles

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, Belmont Coles, yep.

Brad Webb: And it's a pretty big Coles.

Eli Van Aalst: Yep.

Brad Webb: Yeah. So tell me about all the things that you kind do at work, because there are three nights a week.

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, so Mondays when I get there Gary tells us to... if I wanna do pack trucks or do aisle eight, or wherever I want to go, he tells me when we get done there. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays it'll be the same thing.

Brad Webb: Yeah, and then you come for NDIS supports as well to Castle, so you do fishing, what else do you do?

Eli Van Aalst: I do fishing, we go bowling together, sometimes we go the movies.

Brad Webb: Yeah, and we've got a bit of a chat later about some karaoke, perhaps.

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, yeah.

Brad Webb: Yeah, yeah. And Jack, can you tell me about the journey for you into becoming a disability support worker? Why was that of interest to you?

Jack Aarons: Well, I always wanted to help people out ever since back in school. If anyone needed a hand, I'd help them out with such things, and I just thought, I'd turn it into a career. Something that I could actually be worthwhile, or just like a job where I actually feel like I'm doing something for the community.

Brad Webb: And when you think about careers and you set goals, you kind of have these views on what it's gonna be like. Has it met your expectations?

Jack Aarons: Yeah, definitely.

Brad Webb:  What do you see as the future for you in a career sense?

Jack Aarons: The future definitely for me is to continue working as a support worker and eventually probably climbing the position a bit higher just so I can benefit a lot more for the clients and the people that are coming into Castle.

Brad Webb: Yeah, so one of the things you do is you support Eli at Coles. So it must be weird having a job and going to another job. What's that like? Can you talk us through what that day looks like for you guys?

Jack Aarons: It's like working two jobs following him around, but yeah, like it's really good, I get to learn some of the stuff in Coles, I get to see how he does stuff, and he is really good at it.

Brad Webb: Eli told me he worked harder than you. Is that the case?

Jack Aarons: I mean, sometimes, we definitely have our days. But Eli's a really good worker there, he gets always everything done and yeah, always showing up 10 minutes early.

Brad Webb: And can you tell me about then the other supports that you provide other than the one-on-one supports in Coles? The gaming group, how did that come about for you? Are you a gamer?

Jack Aarons: Yeah, so I've always played games since I was a kid and a lot of the other clients coming into Castle are people that love their games and whatnot.

So I think, yeah, we just started, we had one person in the group and then it turned into three, four people. But we just come together, play Minecraft, all those sort of games, I grew up with a lot of those games. So I was always like very interested in it. So if I could bring my interest into it with them, I feel good.

Brad Webb: And now it's grown, that's a popular...

Jack Aarons: Yeah, it's a popular thing. They love coming in and playing games, something that makes their day and their afternoon.

Brad Webb: Yeah, is it competitive?

Jack Aarons: Yeah, I'd say it's competitive. I'm always getting beat by a lot of them because they're a lot better than me. But it's also just to get 'em involved so we can play two player things. We can all have a turn and everyone's included.

Brad Webb:: I said I'd come back to the fishing, Eli. Do you cook these fish that you catch?

Eli Van Aalst: No, we don't cook them, we release the fish.

Brad Webb: You release the fish.

Eli Van Aalst: Because it's too hard because we haven't got ice or the fin to catch the fish, we just release them.

Brad Webb: Yeah, where do you go fishing?

Eli Van Aalst: Where do we go fishing, Jack?

Jack Aarons: Valentine.

Jack and Eli: Valentine and where we can catch the fish, Valentine, Speers Point or Swansea or wherever.

Brad Webb: Yep, one of the things I'm really thrilled about this conversation is that for many people we talk to, Disability Employment Services and NDIS Services sit really separate. And we've got this real opportunity here because we've been doing disability employment services for so long, to talk about the linkages and supporting people in NDIS programs, get skills and we've developed modules in the NDIS programs that'll allow people to train up in job readiness skills.

Do you think that's an important development, Jack, for an organisation like ours? Have you seen anything like that before?

Jack Aarons: Like job readiness?

Brad Webb: Yeah.

Jack Aarons: Yeah, I think it's very important like getting them out there, getting them job experience and then obviously for the future, of course like potential work and employment because without those skills they're gonna struggle with certain aspects because that's obviously the most important thing when it comes to working.

Brad Webb: I think one of the things I've observed is some people come into our NDIS programs and they say, "No, I don't want a job, I just want to hang out and I just want to do some social supports, I couldn't get a job." And then they do a couple of these modules and people go, "Actually I think I probably could do a little bit." And you get different skills 'cause your work is really a big part of who you are, isn't it?

Eli Van Aalst: It is, yeah, it is, definitely.

Brad Webb: Yeah, and you can see yourself working for Coles and places like that for a long time.

Eli Van Aalst: Yep.

Brad Webb: Yeah, that's fantastic. I guess that one of the other things that we've seen, particularly coming outta COVID is how difficult it is to get disability support workers.

Jack, what would you say to anyone who's thinking about working as a disability support worker? What advice, what thoughts do you have?

Come into it with an open mind and obviously respect the people you're working for... I'd say anyone that wants to give it a shot, I'd say just do it.

Jack Aarons: I'd say come into it with an open mind and obviously respect the people you're working for and just come in that you're going to help these people and you're gonna do the best of your ability and yeah, I'd say anyone that wants to give it a shot, I'd say just do it.

Eli: Yeah, just do it.

Brad Webb: Because what you've told us about today is also this idea that your interests become the strengths that you take into the support work that you do and it's about matching those interests with other people. I don't think a lot of people appreciate that that's what it can be like.

Jack Aarons: Yeah, I think there's a lot of diversity too. So if you have a music background, bring music into it and even show some of them how to play music. Because without external skills, you don't want it to be narrow, you want it to be wide, yeah.

Brad Webb: Yeah, so I think our goal here is to try and have disability support workers who've come from such a wide range of backgrounds and experiences 'cause some people love singing and music.

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, that's me.

Brad Webb: Some people like fishing and other people would just want to hang out, just want to do gaming. So it's creating that diversity which is really, really important. And this might be a dangerous question, but is Castle a good place to work?

Jack Aarons: It's a great place to work.

Brad Webb: Right, what's good about it?

Jack Aarons: The people, community, I guess the facilities we have, we got a lot of access to resources, whether that be online or training and I just think it's a very friendly workspace. Everyone's nice, treats each other right. And yeah, I just think all in all it's a great place to work.

Brad Webb: I'll ask this question to both of you and anyone can answer, but Jack, you mentioned respect as being a pretty fundamental piece of the work that you do, and respect in our community can vary from people.

Have you got any thoughts about respect and the respect that people have for either of you or the respect you have for each other?

Jack Aarons:I guess just treat people how you wanna be treated.

Eli Van Aalst: Yeah, same.

Brad Webb: Yeah, and I think the more you spend time in the workplace and at Coles and at places like that you start to find that people respect you more, respect the work that you do.

Eli Van Aalst: Yep.

Brad Webb: Yeah, fantastic. Look, I always kind of wrap up these episodes by asking the question of what does embrace your otherness mean to you?

And Jack, I'm gonna come to you first because we've got a special treat in store from Eli. You might need to warm up the vocal cords. But Jack, what's embrace your otherness mean to you?

Jack Aarons: Embrace your otherness simply means regardless if you are different to other people that you still come in with an open mind and I guess you just embrace the person you are, whether that be what you wear, how you talk, how you do stuff in the community.

Brad Webb: Eli, you've got a song that talks about embrace your otherness. So are you ready to rock?

Eli Van Aalst: Yep.

♪ I see you true colour shining through ♪ ♪

I see you true colours ♪ ♪

And that's why I love you ♪ ♪

So don't be afraid to let them ♪ ♪

So your true colours ♪ ♪

True colours are shining through like a rainbow ♪♪


Brad Webb: Hey, fantastic.

Eli Van Aalst: Thank you very much.

Brad Webb: I think that's the perfect way to wrap up the show 'cause you couldn't ask for a better song than "True Colours" to talk about embracing your otherness.

Eli Van Aalst: True Colors is good, I love Cyndi Lauper, she's good, she's amazing.

Brad Webb: A big shout out to Cyndi Lauper.

Eli Van Aalst: Yes, Cyndi Lauper, woo.

Brad Webb: Jack, Eli, thank you both so much for coming in today and having a chat to me. It really does mean a lot to Castle that you are part of the Castle family and that we can have this chat and talk about what it is to change the way people perceive disability and change the way people can respect people with disability far more. So thank you both so much.

Eli Van Aalst: And thank you for having us too.

Brad Webb: You're welcome.

Jack Aarons: It's been a pleasure.