Employ-ABILITY Local Stories project launched at Dapto

Laurinda Martin and Steve Petrolati with their respective panels. After the launch, the story panels will be on display at Corrimal Community Centre. Picture: Brendan Crabb

Laurinda Martin and Steve Petrolati with their respective panels. After the launch, the story panels will be on display at Corrimal Community Centre. Picture: Brendan Crabb

Whether working as a receptionist or student counsellor, in a café or in the NSW Police Force, a series of Illawarra stories aim to celebrate Employ-ABILITY.

Laurinda Martin and Steve Petrolati are among those featured in seven story panels, as part of Wollongong and Shellharbour City Council’s Employ-ABILITY Local Stories project.

The project was launched on Monday at Dapto Ribbonwood Centre. 

The panel project features images and stories of Illawarra people with a disability, and aims to break down barriers and change perceptions of what people with a disability can do, or bring to, a job.

Mount Warrigal resident Ms Martin has been blind since early childhood.

The 47-year-old has gone from supported employment to open employment, and back to supported employment with The Flagstaff Group. She said the two main work-related obstacles she faced were “trying to find work for someone who is blind, and also keeping it too”.

Ms Martin provides receptionist services at a number of Flagstaff sites, and her other duties include being the go-to person for proofreading their Braille products. 

“They don’t treat me as a disabled person; they treat me as an individual,” she said. “(I think the panels) are a big opportunity for other people who are younger to look up to people like ourselves, thinking that it’s not too hard to get employment.”

Towradgi resident Mr Petrolati had a spinal cord injury in 1986 and is now a paraplegic. 

The 51-year-old currently works for the University of Wollongong as a student counsellor. 

“Some people are uncomfortable around people with disability and treat us as more disabled than we are,” he said. “At work I get treated as an equal by colleagues and clients.

“The most rewarding aspect for me is to make a change in someone’s life. 

“I think if you employ someone with a disability they’re so appreciative at having a job that you’re more likely to get good outcomes or good work performance from someone with a disability. It provides a sense of self-esteem, identity and belonging.”

The launch of these panels also included a round-table conversation on employment and disability, with participants including NSW Business Chamber, UOW and representatives from Greenacres and Flagstaff.