Craig Ryan is a NSW-based man with Cerebral Palsy. He was an escort runner with the Sydney Olympic Torch and also part of the Australian Paralympic Powerlifting Squad. He also enjoys watching sport and supporting the mighty Manly Sea Eagles in the NRL.
It was the end of 2001 and my school days (which I had enjoyed) were about to come an end and the common question, “What’s next” had been swirling around my head for some time. It was a question I myself had struggled to answer as having a mild case of Cerebral Palsy meant some limitations. I didn’t drive and using public transport was possible but not always easy.
It had been suggested I should work at a disability support service (also known as a sheltered workshop) and while this is an excellent option for some, I and my family knew this was not for me at all. I’d always been good with people and at talking (anyone reading this who knows me well will relate and be able to verify this). So, a job helping or serving people appealed.
The next question was “where” and how”. Me being me and never wanting to miss out on too much and always thinking… “sure if someone else can do that so can I (maybe even better)”; I thought getting a job wouldn’t be too hard. I had also applied for funding via the “special” school to assist with employment or further studies.
Full of hope and expectation, I wrote up a resume and a cover letter and started replying to job ads I saw online and in the newspaper. I was mostly applying for Customer Service/Administration type roles (based locally to where I live, having to keep in mind transport). Several months passed and no luck “ok so this was proving harder than I thought” and after several knock backs with employers saying things like “oh I don’t think we have what you’re looking for” I was feeling pretty despondent. While I couldn’t say I experienced direct discrimination, I think this is something that can certainly be experienced often indirectly and particularly while employment is being sort.
It’s fair to say (while my family and friends and I don’t see my Cerebral Palsy as a barrier), I think that my mild case of Cerebral Palsy played a big part in my initial struggle to find employment. This may be argued or denied by some (due to possible discrimination), but I believe that in some cases (not all) this to be true. Hopefully though, these views maybe changing somewhat and coming into step with current times.
When I first started looking I think employees were (but would not say directly), and sometimes still are, nervous about taking on someone with a disability – in many ways they can’t be blamed for taking that line of thought, after all, there may be extra risks including from an OH&S perspective.
However, people with disabilities (as I often say) just want to be and should be accepted like everyone else. With appropriate support this can be achieved and turned into a win-win situation for both employer and employee. I believe a better education process with the assistance of State and Federal Governments to employers about what people with disabilities have to offer as employees and available assistance and funding support would in turn increase the chances overall of people with disabilities successfully obtaining employment.
I’m happy to say that after some further study at TAFE and help from a great employment assistance program, I’m now working at Warringah Council (Sydney) and have been since 2003. The Council have been an excellent organisation to work for.
So in closing I guess I would say to anyone with a disability looking for employment, it’s not going to be easy, there will be knockbacks and disappointments but it is definitely possible. Play to your strengths as everyone’s situation is different, find out what it is you want and can do and if required seeks assistance from a Disability Employment Service. These organisations can be of assistance and may be able to seek funding in support of obtaining employment. A disability employment service may also be able to assist with modifying a role to suit a prospective client/employee and provide a supported wage system for this.
Lastly, “give it a go”.
Thanks for reading, all the best with your future endeavours,
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