The Community Visitors (CV) program, established under the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) in 1987, represents one advocacy approach which gives voice to people with disabilities and seeks to reduce conflict in the disability service provider space. The Community Visitors program (disability) trains ordinary citizens who volunteer to explore the settings of disability service provision and experiences of people with disabilities.
As Community Visitors, having the right to unannounced visits and the right to raise issues of concern with service providers places them in a unique position. Community Visitors play a crucial role in monitoring disability service quality and standards and in bringing issues to the attention of the service provider or others where necessary. In speaking for those who cannot do so for themselves, the CVs keep services accountable by protecting, defending and promoting the rights of people with disability. Yet despite over thirty years of operation, with over 5000 visits each year, no analysis of the work of CVs and their overall impact on the disability sector has yet been undertaken.
The aim of this research project is to examine the mechanics of the Community Visitors program (disability), identifying the key characterising features of the role, motivations for volunteers to take on the role, the nature of the work, barriers and enablers to the role and to obtain understanding of reform that may be required for its continued operation in an National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) era. This research seeks to examine more broadly the effectiveness of this outreach independent advocacy model and its place in ensuring that the human rights of people with disabilities living in group homes are obtained and maintained.
Two forms of data will, subject to time and resources, be collected in the proposed research:
Firstly, document analysis of the Community Visitors’ annual reports from the last 10 years will be analysed. These documents will provide insight into a series of factors impacting on the roles and strategies CV volunteers and managers use to promote the quality of life of people with disabilities utilising support services.
Secondly, this research proposes to interview approximately 20 regional CV program managers and volunteers. Interviews will discuss the perceptions of the ways in which CVs operate in their roles, promote the objectives of the program and the extent to which these have changed over time to reflect emergent policy and practice.