Our Story

Ability Assist was founded in 1994 by Janet Blackley in Brunswick, Melbourne with the mission to enrich lives by enhancing independence, skills, and quality of life.

1994 – Humble beginnings with big impact

Ability Assist (formerly Disability Assist) traces its roots back to Melbourne, Victoria, where Janet Blackley, a physiotherapist, and former CEO of Kew Cottages, founded the organisation in the back bungalow of her inner-northern suburb Brunswick home.

Established during a transformative era, Ability Assist emerged as one of the pioneering community-based disability support organisations in response to the closure of institutional facilities like Kew Cottages.

Ability Assist was one of the first organisations to provide not only day programs but also outreach support services into people’s homes. Initially supporting about 20 clients primarily from Kew Cottages, the organisation had a team of about 4 staff members.

Bringing her Rotarian values, Janet Blackley aimed to empower former residents of Kew Cottages with the tools and opportunities needed to thrive beyond institutional confines. From its inception, Ability Assist has remained committed to fostering independence, nurturing skills, and enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities. Aligned with this overarching mission, the organisation developed a set of core values ASPIRE (Advocacy, Social Inclusion, Participation, Integrity, Respect, and Empowerment) to serve as guiding principles in the provision of support and services that continues to this day.

Read more

Kew cottages was closing, and I thought it was a good time to start a disability service, because that was a fairly new thing. We could provide a really good alternative to centre-based programs out in the community with a range of different staffing from 1:1 to 1:4 at a time. We started off in the bungalow in my house in Brunswick, because we wanted to have it in the Northern West Suburbs, because there was a lot of services in the East, there was not many in the north or the west.

Janet Blackley

2004 – 10 Years Supporting the Community

By its 10th year, Ability Assist had incorporated and grown to support many clients mostly through word of mouth. The organisation had acquired and managed several residential houses, that provided 24/7 support to people with disabilities, enabling them to live independent lives in the community. It had gained a reputation for providing effective, team-based consistent support for individuals with complex care and behavioural needs, with a staff team of about 40 members.

I’m a big believer that you have to have a nice home and food, because you can’t do anything unless you have a basic good home

Janet Blackley

2007 – Ability Training and Consultancy

While always providing training to other organisations, Ability Training formalised in the 2000’s, leveraging the extensive knowledge of Janet and the team, which included Matthew, Janet’s son. Ability Training developed an industry-leading training program to build the capacity of local disability support workers and other community organisations.

The training covered a wide range of topics, including Health and Disability Background, Direct Service, and Human Service Management, comprising 32 different training units. Over the years, Ability Training has provided intensive training programs to the Department of Justice, State Library, and Victoria Law Courts to name a few.

Photo: Photo from the Ability Assist website in 2007, showcasing the “Ability Training” service offering. Photo of training being undertaken.

2009 – Disability to Ability Assist

As the organisation continued to grow and expand its programs, Disability Assist changed its name to Ability Assist to reflect the broadening scope of its services and ethos of encouraging strengths-based support. At this time, due to Ability Assist’s growing reputation for providing high-quality person-centred care for people with intellectual disability and complex needs, the Department of Human Services (now Department of Families, Fairness and Housing) reached out to Ability Assist and asked if the organisation was able to begin supporting young people with complex needs in the Out of Home Care sector.

Photo:  The original “Ability Assist” logo.

2010 – Ability Plus Community Based Day Programs

Ability Plus was formed as the day activity program of Ability Assist, initially operated from offices in Coburg. Ability Plus offered a range of community-based groups and activities to people with disabilities, promoting enjoyment, skill acquisition, and strengths building. Over the years, the day program supported hundreds of clients.

It was built on the core ethos of giving opportunities to people to do the things they wanted to do and liked, rather than have someone tell them what they are doing

Matthew Hartrick

Photo: Photo from Ability Assist Website in 2010 showcasing the “Ability Plus” day program service offering, which includes two images of clients.

2014 – Provision of Out Of Home Care services

In 2014, the organisation began working with the Department of Human Services to provide Out of Home Care – Care homes for young people. This marked a significant shift and learning opportunity for the organisation, with Ability Assist initially managing a few homes. At this stage, Ability Assist had grown to a team of 100 staff members, reflecting both the organisation’s growth and the diversity of cultures, skills, and backgrounds among its staff members.

In 2014 we started the [Out Of Home Care] houses and that became a whole new learning curve for us …. Our existing staff [At the time] were not really aware of trauma informed practice, so that was a big learning curve for us as well. I think that’s one of the reasons why, we provide such high quality care and support because we have staff who have a wide range of backgrounds, skills and experience.

Janet Blackley

2016 – NDIS Rollout and Ability Assist

With the shift to the NDIS, Ability Assist was well-positioned to support the transition from state to federal funding of disability services. Embracing the philosophy and ethos behind the NDIS, the organisation incorporated the name “Ability Assist” and modernised its look to reflect its expanding service offering to the community, including a range of disability and child protection out-of-home care services. During this period, the organisation underwent a major brand refresh to reflect its growth, confidence, and dedication, relocating to new premises in Hadfield.

Photo: Photo of the updated “Ability Assist” logo along with the “We support the NDIS” logo and NDIS Quality Certification through Quantum.

2019 – 2022 – Expanded Leadership Team & Response to Covid – 19

In 2019, as the organisation continued to grow, Ability Assist welcomed its first Chief Executive, Cindy Thomassen, to provide operational leadership and strategic direction to the organisation. With a demonstrated history of leadership in the healthcare industry, particularly within quality and performance improvement, Cindy has empowered the organization to build on its legacy and go from strength to strength.

In 2020, the world changed with the COVID-19 crisis. During this time, Ability Assist responded to the challenges by making several changes. Sadly, Ability Plus, the Day Program for the organisation, had to close down due to social distancing and lockdown requirements.

However, Ability Assist continued to work tirelessly, supporting both NDIS Outreach participants and young people in Out of Home Care. Collaborating with MacArthur Family Services, Ability Assist was recognised for outstanding work supporting clients and residences through COVID-19 at the 2022 Victorian Protecting Children Awards. Ability Assist also moved to larger premises at its current offices in Tullamarine, providing the space needed to support its growing organisation.

Read more

Photo: Photo of Ability Assist’s CEO Cindy alongside photo of the 2022 “Protecting Children Award” that Ability Assist received alongside MacArthur Family Services.

2024 – 30 Years of Support

At the end of 2023, Ability Assist provide services in 22 residential houses, across the Western and Northern suburbs of Melbourne. The organisation supported up to 93 clients, including 10 new TCP clients, with the support of a team of 313 committed staff members.

In 2024, Ability Assist celebrates 30 years of supporting people in need through its Disability Outreach services, Out of Home Care services, and Targeted Care Packages (TCP) services.

Looking beyond, the organisation is focused on continuing to deliver on its mission of providing support services that fosters independence, nurtures skills, and enhances the quality of life.

As an organisation we have a key focus on supporting people to improve their lives and to be as independent as possible. I think what we do better than other organisations is that we react and act in a timely manner, we don’t take weeks to get something done, which needs to be done in a day. We can set up a house in 6 hours

Janet Blackley

Photo: Photos of Ability Assist’s 30 year anniversary logo alongside photos of Ability Assist staff at the 2022 end of year celebration and winners of the Ability Assist end of year awards.

Learn more about us

Our Values

More Details

Our Standards

More Details

Our Careers

More Details