December 3 is International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD), a globally recognized United Nations (UN) day established in 1992 to enhance community awareness and acceptance of people with disability. The UN’s theme for IDPWD 2023 is ‘United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for, with and by persons with disabilities.’

At CoAct we have chosen to amplify this message by asking members of our network to share their lived experience of navigating living and working with disability.

This is Joanne’s story

Joanne was a customer experience coordinator (CEC) for four years before becoming a team leader and now she “helps her team get everything across the line in terms of KPIs and coaches the rest of the team.”

In January 2019 Joanne had a stroke. It was a second and more severe ischemic stroke after a hemorrhagic stroke around 12 months earlier (side note, Joanna is a warrior who has since also fought off cancer).

“The first stroke was quite small and was due to high blood pressure. I have right sided weakness because of this but with this one I was only off work for three weeks.
“The second one was in my cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance. It was diagnosed too late for ‘clot busting’ medication so my brain cells died and it took around three months for me to be able to get out of bed this time.”

On the road to recovery Joanne undertook three months of rehab to be able to do so-called basic actions like fastening buttons and brushing her hair. This included balance exercises to be able to walk or even sit up by herself without falling over.

At the time Joanne had been working as an audit risk and compliance manager at KFC for over 20 years. She initially went back to work on a return-to-work program but, she says “it was just it was pretty tough, I worked a lot of hours, and then someone told me about employment services.”

Joanne applied for a job at what was then Workways (now BUSY Ability) as soon as she saw a position available.

“I needed a job that was less physically demanding, and I wanted to be able to help people who had that same mindset as I did after the stroke, thinking ‘what am I going to be able to do after this?’”

Working with disability

“I just found that I love it more than I ever thought I would,” says Joanne.

“It’s so rewarding and, as an example, I had somebody who came in after having a stroke and I don’t always talk about my disability with a customer but in this situation they were convinced they wouldn’t be able to work again and it was so good to be able to show them a light at the end of the tunnel and talk a bit about my story.”

Joanne says, “They were completely different when they left,” and explains that she can offer similar insights for people fighting cancer too.

“I went through a year of chemo and radiation treatment and had a mastectomy so when people come in and talk about being in a similar situation I can tell them about really good specific services out there and it builds rapport when people know that you’ve been in a similar situation.”

Each week Joanne supports people living with disability, illness or minor injuries to find work. “They think that they’re never going to find work and I thought too so I love that I can think back to what I went through and connect it to what they’re probably feeling right now and use my experience to make a real difference for them.”

At the time of her second stroke Joanne says, “I was thinking to myself, what kind of work am I going to be able to do? How am I going to even get out of bed, dress my son for school?
So, depending on each person that comes through with their different challenges, I just try and talk to them about my experience.”

When asked what advice she would give to someone reading this who’s in that situation today Joanne says, “You might be feeling right now like everything’s so hard and you’re not going to be able to get through this, but if you just take it one step at a time and think about every little thing you can do right now there is that light at the end of the tunnel.”

How CoAct can help

Register here today to find out more about how CoAct and our service partners (like BUSY Ability) in your local area can provide dedicated support, resources, funding, training, and programs to help with reaching employment goals.

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Get in touch with the CoAct team today
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