How our workers ‘win’ supporting those living with disability

September 20, 2022

As Julian’s university friends were boarding planes to create change on the other side of the world, Julian had an epiphany. He had a few different jobs during his uni years, but it was his taste of the disability sector that stopped him in his tracks.

“I realised that I didn’t need to pack up my life and move overseas to make an impact. Through a career in disability, I could make change here, right now, and even get paid for it.” Julian describes himself as a “builder” and “a bigger picture person” so an impactful career path was always his goal. What Julian didn’t realise was that the impact would go both ways.

“Working with people with a disability means that my perspective on the world is constantly challenged,” Julian says. For many of Julian’s clients, their intellectual limitations mean that they have to be very genuine. In a world where our honest opinions are tainted by self-doubt, perceived power structures and societal expectations, “we don’t often get to hear people’s genuine perspectives,” Julian says. “Thankfully, we have people living with  disabilities providing that.”

Julian smiles when he recalls a recent encounter with a client whose simple, honest commentary challenged him to reflect on his own practice. During the conversation Julian said to the client, “If you do it this way you will become a little more independent,” to which the client responded, “I am sick of all this independent talk … independence here, independence there. Do this by yourself. I just want someone to help me!” Julian was struck by this comment, which led him to reflect on the assumption in the disability sector that everyone wants to be making independent decisions. “What if we have someone whose values are a little different or who is more socially driven … particularly some clients from diverse cultural backgrounds?”

Julian reflects on the principles of choice and control, which underpin the NDIS. “If we truly believe in these values, someone should be able to choose an approach to their lives that is not all about independence.” This encounter is one of many moments in Julian’s career when a client has made him think, “Wow, that’s the way we should see it!” or reflect upon the deeper social structures and assumptions under which we operate.

Julian’s day typically starts early at 6.30am. “A lot needs to happen in the background before the day begins. I try to get through some of the mundane admin tasks. From 9.00am to 3.00pm I focus on service delivery and, where possible, I am attentive to the things that come up.” Julian acknowledges that there are some mundane aspects of his work, so he encourages anyone working in disability not to lose sight of the bigger picture. For Julian, his vision is to change society’s perceptions of disability. “People living with disabilities are still seen as people who don’t have capacity to do a lot of things,” Julian says.

In a world that tells us to strive for the big job, fancy car and large pay cheque, Julian acknowledges that a career in disability is not the pathway to that lifestyle. “You have to be willing to give and to perhaps settle for less than what the world says you should have,” Julian says. Abundance comes in many other forms for Julian who wouldn’t be the person he is today without the client encounters that have shaped him. Julian urges anyone considering a career in disability to reflect on their motivations, “If you are working in disability just to have a job then you are wasting your time. You must be here because you are committed to change and to a better, more inclusive society.”

It is that commitment to change and recognition of the bigger picture that keeps Julian’s passion alive. “You can only make an impact if you have passion,” Julian says, and in his case that passion is showing no sign of waning.

For more information about CatholicCare’s disability supports call (02) 9488 2500 or visit www.catholiccaredbb.org.au.

 

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