Marlene Butteriss, QCOSS

There has a been a lot of talk lately about ‘person centred’ approaches and ‘self-direction’ in the context of disability services, particularly with the advent of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), but what do these terms really mean and why are they important?

What does person centred mean?

A person centred approach focuses on making sure a person with a disability is at the centre of all decisions and actions that relate to their life and their support. The person requesting or requiring support is the driver, rather than the organisation providing the support. Being person centred assumes that an individual can determine the direction of their life based on their own strengths, abilities, networks and preferences to meet their goals at any stage in their life.

What is self-direction?

Self-direction is a funding model that empowers people with a disability and their family or other networks by expanding their opportunity for choice and control over the support they receive. Simply put, self-direction, or self-directed funding, lets the funded person and their family decide how to use their funding to best meet their needs.

The NDIS has been designed based on self-direction. In Queensland, you can self-direct your support through Your Life Your Choice.

Promoting understanding

An essential factor in the success and effectiveness of person centred approaches is the awareness of people with a disability and their carers of what this really means for them. If people are provided only with information about processes and funding models such as self-direction, without understanding the reasoning behind it, then there is a greater risk of scepticism and tentativeness.

Recent NSW research of people with a disability and their carers found that over 74% of respondents expected that person centred approaches and individualised funding models would make things a little or a lot better (Broady, 2014, p291). However, there were still significant numbers of people who were unsure or who were suspicious of the motivations behind such a move.

When people have an understanding of person centred approaches, they are more likely to be positive and engaged in self-directed funding models. Provided with knowledge, people with a disability, their carers and family are also in a better position to identify specific supports needed, and to understand the implications of time required to manage their funding in a self-directed model.

Organisations would benefit from thorough engagement strategies to ensure information is offered and accessible, and that methods are available to promote good understanding for people with a disability and their carers.

More information

NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, in conjunction with Australian Catholic University, has produced a guide called Exploring and Implementing Person Centred Approaches.


Broady, T. 2014, "What is a person-centred approach? Familiarity and understanding of individualised funding amongst carers in New South Wales", Australian Journal of Social Issues, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 285-307,393.

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