As the NDIS registered disability provider ‘What Ability’ turns 4, we sat down with Founder Steve Dresler and CMO Lucy Garcia to find out how the team is putting happiness first for those living with a disability across the country!

Can you share with us the story behind the founding of What Ability? What inspired you to start this venture?


During my time as a footy player, I worked on weekends supporting kids with a disability; taking them surfing, swimming and bushwalking. After medically retiring from the NRL in 2019, I knew I wanted to keep creating a positive impact, so I started helping those kids full time and recruiting other athletes. My background in football and support work with other athletes showed me first-hand the positive benefits of athletes as support workers for both the athletes and kids. That was the start of What Ability.

How has your initial vision for the company evolved over time?


I don’t think it’s uncommon for the initial vision of a company to evolve over time as the business grows and adapts to new circumstances. My preliminary vision of ‘building an inclusive Australia’ has developed into ‘building an inclusive world’. We aspire to become advocates in the space for a world that supports all abilities and puts inclusion and diversity at the forefront of society. This excites me and the team as we aim to break down those existing barriers and stigmas in the disability sector on both a national and global level, leaving a legacy that we can be proud of.

Our vision is backed and shared by the support of our Major Partners; AAMI, Harvey Norman, Optus, Shaw and Partners and Tyrepower who have helped provide visibility of our company and mission. The ongoing support of these household names will allow disability to be seen and heard as we build an inclusive world.

How have you fostered a company culture that aligns with your values and vision?


Our mission is simple, to put happiness first. This rings true not just for our participants and families, but our support workers and staff too. We have invested in great people who are passionate and relentless in putting happiness first. You’d struggle to find a better group of people to work with!

We have five company values that embrace our entire organisation structure from how I lead the marketing team, through to how every support worker will show up for a booking. These values have guided our business decisions, our marketing strategies, our communication channels such as our choice to replace bulk email communications with personalised phone calls from our from our Senior Team Leads. We’ve built local state teams that know every participant’s parent, siblings and pet’s names.

I’m proud to share that from a support side, we host Morning Teas around the country. The event is an open forum for existing participants, families and community members to meet our team, understand our strategies and provide genuine feedback on our future plans. This ongoing format allows us to continually improve our service and provide another channel of feedback for our families.

From a business point of view, we want disability to be seen and heard, and to do that, we need to be the loudest voice in the room. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the hard work, dedication and support of every single person in our community.

What is the key difference you have noticed with participants being out and about and participating in the community?


One thing I have always believed is that happiness comes first, no matter what your ability. People living with a disability should get the same opportunities that we got growing up and a lot of those opportunities take place in the community; from going on a jet ski, a day out at flip out, getting a hot chocolate at a cafe or going on a bush walk.

Access to the community is an integral part of life. Being able to access the community allows relationships to form, social connections to thrive and the discovery of new hobbies and places. When a participant is happy and comfortable in the community, all areas of their life improve. They gain confidence in everyday living and in turn, develop life skills, whether that is catching the ferry, paying for their morning coffee or doing a grocery shop.

Something I noticed early for our participants, when you focus on community access first, other life goals follow. When you get comfortable sitting at the cafe, you might start learning how to use cutlery, or order your first drink. These life skills foster independence. I know we make a booking look fun, but behind the scenes we’re developing those individual’s life skills.

Four years on…what have you learnt?


I have learnt many things during the four years at What Ability. I didn’t grow up in this sector and had never really seen disability in the community, but one thing that stands out to me is how much potential there is.

I have seen first hand the power of community access. Ongoing exposure to the community is truly changing the lives of participants and their families living across the country. Participants are experiencing things they never thought they would, like a sleepover away from home and in turn, their parents are receiving respite for the first time.

There are still existing stigmas and perceptions that people living with disabilities ‘can’t do’ what neurotypical people can. We hope to break down these barriers and existing stigmas. One way we aspire to do this is through the power of sport and athletes. Athletes are the most influential people in the world, and they not only provide a platform, but a powerful link to society. Part of breaking down stigmas means increasing visibility in a positive light. If we increase awareness, we will go a long way in normalising disability and everything that comes with it.

In the next four years we want to continue to be the loudest voice in the room, encouraging the community to be aware, to listen and to support our vision of building a world that celebrates all abilities.

Starting out with a single location in Sydney to now making a difference across Australia, check out where What Ability have expanded to here or head to their website for more information.

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