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If you’ve ever considered a career in the disability sector, you might assume you know the kinds of skills or personality needed – and the sorts of jobs available.
But do you really understand the opportunities, and the impact on the community you might have?
Or perhaps you’ve considered a career in health, but haven’t given much thought to how that could potentially tie in with the disability and inclusion sector.
To find out more – and bust a few misconceptions – we spoke to five professionals to find out what a career in this field is really like.
A huge life upheaval led Renee Allara to her job as a disability assistant.
‘Five years ago, I was a passenger in a car that was involved in a large accident. I was the only person hurt,’ she says. ‘I had physical injuries and I also lost my hearing.’
Suddenly, Renee, an artist, realised just how inaccessible the world could be.
‘I started to see people who were in my new community in a new light. These deaf people had been blocked from so much that others take for granted.’
Renee is also the mother of two children with autism, which gives her and her family an additional insight into the barriers that can be experienced by people with disabilities to full community inclusion.
Now a graduate of Deakin’s Graduate Certificate of Disability and Inclusion, Renee works as a disability assistant at Macquarie Fields TAFE in Sydney, supporting students with a range of disabilities inside and outside of class.
‘I interpret the information they are learning and give it to them in a form that makes sense to them,’ she says. ‘Everyone has their own learning style and you need to adjust to the student and when this is provided they succeed in their courses.’
She would encourage anyone to consider a career in this field, describing it as an exciting time in disability work, particularly with the arrival of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Leonard Makore, another graduate of Deakin’s Graduate Certificate of Disability and Inclusion, is a support and training manager for Wallara Australia. His job is to oversee the health and wellbeing of 100 supported employees in the logistics division of the Melbourne disability enterprise.
In a former life, he was a machine technician in the production and manufacturing industry. But Leonard, originally from Zimbabwe, has a brother with catatonic schizophrenia, and wanted to use his skills to help spark social change. After completing his graduate certificate, he has now gone on to study a Master of Disability and Inclusion.
Leonard helps people with a variety of disabilities, who do picking and packing or general production work for clients including Hawthorn Football Club and Mary Kay.
Leonard happily admits to being amazed by the different abilities of his staff – not to mention their work ethic. At Wallara, people with disabilities drive trucks and forklifts and one man who is blind works on the production line.
'Working in the disability or community sector you can advocate for the human rights of people with disabilities to make sure these aspirations become reality.'
Assoc. Prof. Patsie Frawley,
Faculty of Health, Deakin University
Mona Ismail, a communication technology design officer with Scope, was also inspired to study and work in the disability sector by her brother, who lived with a brain tumour for most of his life.
‘It affected his development and education,’ Mona says. ‘He had to relearn a lot of things after having surgery when he was younger.’
She says this career, also kick-started by Deakin’s Graduate Certificate of Disability and Inclusion, is her way of ‘trying to stay connected’.
Formerly a freelance graphic designer and artist, Mona now helps design communication aids for people with communication or complex communication needs.
She strongly believes in trying to give people with communication difficulties a voice. ‘I would like to be part of the solution or anything that would empower [people with disabilities] to express themselves’.
Ismail says she has also found an unexpected sense of belonging working in this field.
Many people assume you just need to be extremely caring or benevolent to work in disability and inclusion, says Associate Professor Patsie Frawley, of Deakin’s School of Health and Social Development.
But she says what is really needed is a critical mind and a strong conviction to rights and equality. ‘Many students are surprised how politically informed you need to be to work in the disability sector.’
Dr Joanne Watson, a lecturer in disability and inclusion at Deakin, agrees it takes more than a caring attitude.
Some of the many skills required include an understanding of policy and legislation, strong critical analysis and problem solving skills.
Dr Watson says one of the joys is the human connections you make with people from all walks of life.
She says there have been big changes in the sector, thanks to shifts in legislation and attitudes.
‘With this shift comes a need for policy and practice mechanisms designed to support people with disabilities to be fully included in a range of areas that previously were inaccessible. This makes the job opportunities in this space literally endless.’
Assoc. Prof. Frawley says people with disabilities aspire to the same things in life as everyone: love, education, money, respect, family, friends and fun.
‘Working in the disability or community sector you can advocate for the human rights of people with disabilities to make sure these aspirations become reality.’
Want to learn more? Find out more about careers in the disability and inclusion sector.
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