By Melissa Keogh
Liz Cohen realised her passion for supporting people with disabilities when teaching a young blind student in Australia’s Top End in the 1970s.
Something about that experience changed her perspective on the world and she steered her career towards the disability sector, and later set up her life in South Australia.
She says the not-for-profit organisation, which is taking the lead on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) roll out in SA, has seen immense growth in the past five years.
“We will turn over $65m this (financial) year,” Liz says.
“We’re currently at about 900 staff so we’ll be celebrating when we hit that 1000.
“We’re a very large organisation not only in the disability sector but in South Australia … we provide services to 750 customers right across the state.”
Cara’s history in SA dates back to the 1950s and emerged out of the Spastic Centres of SA in the mid ’90s.
The organisation provides South Australians with disabilities with accommodation and respite services, as well as recreational activities such as camps, farm stays and other specialist services.
“Cara provides a variety of services to people right across SA with disabilities,” Liz says.
“We help people live in their own homes or in a group home, we provide respite for families so that they can have a break and their child can get out and experience different types of activities.
“We run camps for children with significant disabilities … we also run holiday options for young adults so that they can perhaps go off and do a wine tour just like their friends might be doing.
“We’re empowering people to live as independently as possible.”
Cara is also behind Quiet Hour, an Australian-first shopping experience for people with autism and sensory overload.
Frewville Foodland and The Good Guys at Mile End have taken part in the initiative by dimming the shop lights, turning music off and reducing the ‘beep’ volume on checkouts.
Cara provides services across SA, including regional parts such as the Yorke Peninsula and the South East.
In 2015 Liz was appointed as Cara’s CEO – a position she describes as “the best job in the world”.
“People with a disability in SA are living a richer life because of the work that Cara is doing and I feel like I can share a part of that achievement,” she says.
“We’re in a very good situation in SA, Cara is advocating for the lives of people with a disability, and with technology we’re connected to the eastern seaboard so there’s no reason why we can’t do business well in SA.”
Cara is one of the state’s service providers taking a lead on the NDIS rollout in SA.
The biggest social reform since Medicare in the ’70s, the NDIS is expected to support 460,000 Australians with a disability by giving them more control over how their support funding is spent.
The insurance scheme is for people with a disability aged under 65 and is expected to double the disability sector’s workforce by 2019.
It’s expected to benefit more than 32,000 South Australians once fully implemented from July, 2018.
Liz says Cara has been influential in how the NDIS will be rolled out in addition to the rules and processes involved in the scheme.
“SA is in a really good position to take advantage of the NDIS,” she says.
“With the size of the sector and the size of the state it’s really easy for us to be connected to the disability sector and share and learn from each other which is what we’ve been doing.
“We network really well with politicians and businesses leaders across SA (so) we’re able to influence policy, learn from business leaders and make sure that we’re really agile.”
Liz is originally from NSW and began her career as a teacher in the Northern Territory.
After 11 years in the NT and having two children, Liz and her husband moved to SA.
She began working for a number of not for profit organisations, progressing to a senior executive role at Autism SA before moving to Can:Do as an executive general manager.
Liz says SA has given her many opportunities to advance her career.
“I’ve really valued the ability to be able to learn and grow through my career and this will be our home,” she says.
“SA gives us everything we need in our lives.”
Visit I Choose SA for Industry to learn more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.