Who We Are

For over 25 years we have been empowering individuals with a disability to lead fuller lives.

Through residential and respite services, in home care, and social and community participation, we aim to provide opportunities for growth and development in line with the individuals long term goals.

We value our clients and are committed to treating them with respect and dignity. Our support workers receive the highest quality training to ensure we are upholding our values in every interaction.

We have a strong reputation for our ability to work with children and adults with complex needs who often present more of a service challenge, including high risk behaviors and behaviors of concern.

We are dedicated to providing the best service possible and are continuously expanding and improving. Our popular day program, hosted at our Tullamarine space, began in 2011, and our residential services offering was added in 2015, at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). We welcomed the rollout of the NDIS in Victoria in 2016 and are thrilled to now be able to assist even more people.

We also offer Child and Youth Services in partnership with DHHS, through the provision of Out of Home Care and Targeted Care Packages.

Meet our founder - Janet Blackley

Ability Assist was founded in 1994, as a small organisation with big goals. So small, in fact, the team of 5 worked out of the shed in Janet’s backyard for the first few years!

A physiotherapist by profession, Janet had a wealth of experience in the disability sector, working in hospitals, government and, most notably, at Kew Cottages (previously the largest institution for people with intellectual disabilities in Melbourne) from 1975 until 1990, beginning as a volunteer and advancing to eventually become CEO for a short period.

Through her experiences, Janet saw a need for an organisation that was more in line with what clients and carers really wanted. At the time there were very few services that assisted people with a disability to live independent lives, participate in activities and be a part of the community.

Janet had a bright vision for the future she wanted to help create - one in which people with a disability were given the same opportunities as everyone else, and were valued, accepted and recognized as a person first, and their disability second. With this in mind, Ability Assist was born.

Janet has continually maintained the determined attitude and hands-on approach she began with over 25 years ago and is passionate about ensuring she is always aware of both the client and staff experience, to understand what can be done better. An expert in her field, she continues to conduct training for our staff as well as other disability service providers.

We have a team of over 160, comprising our head office staff, and our qualified support workers in disability and child and youth services.

Our Executive Team

Cindy Thomassen
Chief Executive Officer

Cindy has over 20 years experience working in large, complex health organisations including Melbourne Health and Monash Health, and holds a Masters of Health Service Management. Cindy also has hands-on experience in the health and medical field, beginning her career as a registered nurse at Royal Melbourne Hospital, a position she held for a number of years before transitioning into corporate roles. Cindy has dedicated her life’s work to ensuring individuals in the health care system are consistently provided safe, high quality person centred care, and is passionate about instilling this same commitment and work ethic into her team.
Matthew Hartrick

Matthew has worked in the disability field for over 25 years in a range of settings.  His career commenced at Kew Cottages in 1988, and in 1994 he was one of the founding team members of Ability Assist, becoming a director in 2000. Matthew has a keen interest and extensive skill and experience in supporting people who have complex behavioural issues. He has managed Ability Assist’s After Hours Service for many years and provided training to our staff as well as external organisations in Manual Handling and Management of Behaviours of Concern. Following his experiences in the early years of employment he now has a passion for developing and providing residential options for people who have complex behavioural issues.
Neil Cromie
Director of Corporate Services 

Neil has over 40 years experience in Senior Administration and Finance, having previously held roles within a number of large Australian and international companies, and has been with Ability Assist since April 2018. As a parent of a child with a disability, Neil has first hand experience in the type of struggles that the child, parents and carers can face. This personal understanding gives him a strong drive to want to help improve the lives of those in similar situations. Neil’s role encompasses all aspects of keeping Ability Assist running smoothly and efficiently so that all team members are well equipped to provide the best services possible.
Karren Gooding
Director Disability Services

Karen brings a wealth of experience to her role as our Disability Services Manager. With a career in Community Services that spans over 20 years, she is strongly committed to providing high quality person centred care, and supporting individuals to live as independently as possible. Karen’s qualifications in Diversional Therapy allow her a deep understanding of the benefits of recreational and leisure services for those living with a disability, and she uses this knowledge to develop and implement programmes that help build skills and abilities, assist in social development and promote a sense of wellbeing.
Nicholas Mills
Director Out of Home Care

Nicholas is passionate about providing quality support to those involved with Child Protection, and joined Ability Assist in 2020 highly qualified. He holds an Advanced Diploma of Leadership and Management, a Diploma of Community Welfare Work, Certificate IV in Youth Work, Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs Work, a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, and over 14 years experience in the Community Services field. Nicholas has strong skills in leadership, professional boundaries and self care, and trauma informed practice, and a keen interest in ensuring staff are adequately trained and supported to provide the highest quality of care to our vulnerable children and young people.
Justin Lehmann
Operations Manager – Out of Home Care

Justin comes to Ability Assist with a wealth of knowledge in the Community Services sector. Having worked and managed a number of residential homes for children in Out Of Home Care, Justin understands the individual needs and challenges of the children and young people we work with. Justin displays strong leadership skills using his education background to ensure staff have the skills required to perform their role at a high quality. Justin has completed a Diploma in Community Services, Cert IV in Youth Work, Cert IV in Community Welfare and a Cert IV in Training and Assessment.
Jennifer Gray
Human Resources Manager

Jennifer has over 25 years’ experience in people management across a variety of industries, with a majority spent in the community services sector. She has an MBA in Human Resource Management, and her professional interests include communications, strategy, projects, system improvement, coaching and industrial relations. Jennifer strives to create a working environment that fosters employee creativity and passion. In doing so, she maximises potential, and taps into even more resources and skill sets team members can use in their roles.
Leah Liberato
Finance Manager

Leah has been with Ability Assist since 2017, and has held various roles during this time. As Finance Manager, she oversees the finance department and coordinates financials with NDIS and DHHS. Leah’s career background spans sales management for an international company in the baby industry, as well as previously owning her own cafe.
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