It is one of my beliefs that a sense of purpose in and for life is an essential ingredient in achieving a fulfilling and rewarding time on Papatuanuku. Consequently I place significant weight upon the value of employment and it’s meaningfulness in our lives.
My experience as an employee and a disabled person spans four decades beginning in the factories of Wellington in the seventies. The PEP & VOTP Government schemes of the eighties which led to employment as a Social Worker in a NGO. I was self employed in a small cottage industry manufacturing and retailing sheepskin products throughout the early years of the nineties. It was at this time in my life when my genetic eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa degenerated to a point where I could no longer safely or profitably perform in this role. This was very difficult to accept but made very apparent when a bus load of non-English speaking tourists arrived in the shop with only me to attend to them. I ended up not being able to determine what money was being offered to pay for the purchases. This resulted in me giving away a very nice hat with a fifty dollar tip to the lucky shopper. Definitely time for change.
I chose to retrain in counselling and we took up the responsibilities of managing an emergency housing facility for Care Link in Feilding whilst completing the necessary qualifications. This positioned me well to explore utilising the Government Mainstream initiative to prove my worth to a prospective Government employer.
Workbridge consultancy Palmerston North assisted in negotiating the introduction of the Mainstream employment initiative for disabled people into Manawatu Prison. Mr Trevor Riddle and Mr Bruce Skinner both demonstrated significant open mindedness and forethought in preparing the staff for the introduction of a blind person. They utilised the services of the Royal New Zealand Foundation Of The Blind staff to orientate staff to the needs of blind folk. This was very liberating and enabled me to focus upon the tasks I’d been set. I was welcomed and accepted into the working environment of the Manawatu Prison by the very professional body of staff.
Whilst being supported by the Mainstream initiative I was able to demonstrate my ability to perform as an employee. I took up the opportunity to apply for a position as a Programme Facilitator running group rehabilitation programmes for medium risk offenders. This is the role I currently perform and have done so since mid 2002. To achieve this role I’m supported with computer software which reads out the information on the screen. It is very complex software and it enables me to perform equitably where possible. I still consider it a privilege to get alongside people and assist them to explore the reasons behind their former offending choices and provide them with the opportunity to consider realistic pro-social alternatives.
From time to time those I work with comment on how their perspectives towards others and themselves have been challenged due to observing what can be done by those living with a sensory disability. I value the opportunity to be working in an organization which prides itself upon professionalism, responsiveness, integrity, diversity, and effectiveness. Having the opportunity to make a difference remains important to me and hopefully I can continue being effective in my role as a Programme Facilitator.
Having secure employment has meant I have been able to provide for my family; been a positive role model for my children; gained a real sense of fulfilment through making a difference; and continued my own personal and professional development.
My hope is that the Employers Disability Network will achieve its purpose in linking likeminded people with the knowledge and resources available to make employment a reality for more disabled people throughout our great Nation so they can realise a greater sense of purpose and fulfilment in their lives.