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.