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 Patricia’s story
I’m technically on my third career. I started in hospitality as a young person and young mum. It let me work nights and spend days with my sons when they were young.
My second career was in retail managing multiple EB Games stores and I started a career in this industry to help connect with my autistic son and build a better relationship with him.
My third career was community services – employment services to be precise. I wanted to do a job that made me feel like I was giving back to my community instead of taking from it. Retail had embarked on a huge KPI focus and it was driving people to spend money on items they couldn’t afford and that they often didn’t need. I felt bad about myself with every success. So working in employment services was my “in” to change my life.
I progressed to management very quickly where I had a customer base of more than 3500 people and I worked directly with more than 500 First Nations and Torres Strait Islander customers. I learned a lot about compassion, empathy, culture and gaining connections.
In my first role within the CoAct network I was a consultant for one of their partners and again I made my way very quickly into the leadership role for ACT.
I then went to work directly with CoAct, facilitating the disability employment services (DES) service delivery model training for all CoAct service partners. While I was delivering this training face to face training for the BUSY Ability leaders in Southport I fell in love with the site, the people, and the culture and knew immediately I wanted to work with them.
I could see their passion and impact on communities everywhere, so I wanted to be part of that. When a position in my area became available, I applied, and was very lucky to join the team.
What can you tell us about your disability?
I received my official diagnosis in 2018 after losing use of my hands in 2017. I went eight months without understanding why my dexterity was gone and I couldn’t hold a pen or even put my own shoes on.
This happened following a long stint in hospital with many surgeries, some that almost took my life. On one occasion I contracted an infection at the hospital that couldn’t be identified. When I finally started to recover and was allowed home, I began to lose function in my arm, legs, hands, and more general function.
It took my GP three months to figure out the diagnosis was most likely rheumatoid arthritis. Once I got to the specialist, he diagnosed it very quickly. The medication I was first prescribed was effective but within 12 months it had degraded my vision exponentially, so I had to try new drugs.
My legs are now better but very damaged. Put simply, my condition causes my body to attack itself so the drugs I take wipe out my immune system to reduce the attack. It’s very dangerous because I can become very unwell even with a common cold or runny nose.
I have been on four different biological injections through the years following and I am currently using a combination that reduces the infection in my body and has helped me regain most of the use of my hands and arms.
Working with disability
100% yes. I think my condition makes me even more passionate about helping people find work and educating employers about inclusion and disability awareness.
My condition has given me a voice for so many, even myself. It’s part of who I am, and it drives me to remember how I got where I am and why I’m here.
Does your disability bring anything extra to your work?
It adds strength, empathy, and compassion to everything I do. It also creates a great talking point when people come to us with disabilities they feel cannot be overcome when looking for employment.
Sharing just a small part of my story helps customers find hope, and the motivation to keep going.
Have employers accommodated your disability?
During the first wave of the 2020 pandemic my employer ensured I felt safe, and they accommodated my need to work from home or away from others.
I’ve also accessed the JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund to ensure I have the right equipment to safely do my job. I’ve also experienced colleagues who think of me if they aren’t feeling well and isolate to make sure I’m safe from the possibility of infection.
What would you say to encourage someone who reads your story and relates to it as they look for a job of their own?
There is an opportunity out there for you. I would suggest disclosing your condition to your employer and working with them to make sure you can achieve success in the role with the right support.
Self-advocacy is essential and if you don’t have that yet it’s ok. That’s why disability employment services exist, to help you and to educate your employers.
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.