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February 2020

shirley temple

Get a Hair Cut and Get a Real Job

By | Disability, News
Lauren Hislop WriterHi, I'm Lauren. I’m a writer, desiring to open minds, broaden perspectives and challenge status quo. I am a ‘crazy socialist’, with three university degrees and a fiercely honed sense of independence.
         I also have cerebral palsy, which affects every muscle in my body, including my speech. I require subtitles to decipher my spoken word!  I am extremely passionate about writing. Writing is a medium to express myself articulately and creatively! It causes my heart to soar.
         My body isn’t a temple, it’s more an outhouse! My mobility and fine motor control is extremely limited and likely to degenerate as I become older.  I require support workers to assist me with some daily tasks.
         This year, I was privileged to be asked to write a series of blogs about my experiences seeking and securing employment as a person living with a disability. In my situation, the pathway toward employment has not been straight forward. I have experienced life events which have sometimes prevented me from working for periods of time.
         My tales over this series of blogs will reveal the challenges and successes of my career aspirations.
Chapter 1

The optimism of youth rested upon my shoulders as a gentle mist when I was young. As a 5 year old, I could see no difference between myself and any other child. I had a purity of spirit, untouched by the harsh realities of the world. I could hardly walk and yet dreamt of being a ballet dancer. One may say, my grasp of reality was extremely loose.
        I had the desire to sing and dance. Music was an integral part of my life. I watched Shirley temple re-runs on Sunday and danced in our living room, my mind imagining grace and dexterity as my feet and body made gravity defying twists and turns.
        At 6 years of age, my school physio encouraged my mum to enrol me in ballet lessons. With trepidation she did so, with ballet shoes in one hand and a helmet in her other!  The helmet was to protect me from the frequent falls I had while walking. Mum strongly believed my head to be a ‘precious commodity’. I thought the helmet was downright embarrassing!
        Sadly, my ballet career came to a grinding halt when I was 7 or 8. I realised they were never going to let me graduate to the higher classes and that I would be forever confined with six year olds.
        I maintained my passion for dancing and singing, blissfully unaware of any lack of ability. My speech was unintelligible and my body didn’t operate as I anticipated. However, my heart was on the stage.
        I joined children’s theatre for a couple years, I even managed to score a spoken part! The line was ‘no’ and to this day I have remembered it, repeating it often with clarity. My partner can verify this! 
        My performing aspirations ended when I fell on stage. My body was battered and bruised but for me the worst wound of all, my pride was bruised..
        At 11 I began to develop more realistic expectations. I was fully integrated and had no cognitive limitations. I thrived on writing, using a typewriter. I often had difficulty speaking, though my head was teeming with words.  My mother was my favourite story teller. She has a magical ability to weave stories and I was infected by an insatiable desire to do the same.

When I went to high school, future employment became more prominent in my mind. I sat with my laptop, in my plaid skirt and worked diligently, undaunted by my peers. I was intelligent and received decent marks.
        During this time, I visited the Cerebral Palsy Alliance one day each year. I had a friend there, Lyn, and her symptoms were far more severe than mine but her mind was sharp as a tack. The problem was, she did not have the same opportunities as me and was working in a sheltered workshop! Lyn wasn’t able to attend a mainstream school or university. I realised right there and then, in that old decrepit building with Lyn by my side, how privileged I was. If I was born a few years earlier, perhaps I wouldn’t have had these opportunities either. I knew at that moment, I wanted to become an advocate for people living with disability. My desire was to work in the field of social work or social welfare.
        I believed wholeheartedly I was going to make the world a better place for people with disability.
        In Year 10, I had the opportunity to experience work experience for a week. We were given preferences and I chose social welfare work. I chatted to my career advisor, a vibrant woman with long jet black hair. She believed I had endless opportunities and I was infused with her optimism. I asked if I could go to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and she arranged it. Mum helped me secure accommodation in Sydney and to procure support workers to assist with personal care.
        When mum took me to Supre to purchase ‘work clothes’, I felt as though I was in a boutique, taking a step towards entering the adult world. 
        My work experience supervisor was brilliant; I had my own desk and I conversed with colleagues. I immersed myself into the environment. Although the office was painted a dismal grey, the vibrancy I felt, due to the people, was palpable. I had my first taste of independence and I yearned for more.

After returning home, I received a glowing report from my supervisor. She praised me for my competency and professionalism in the workplace. This fuelled my desire to become a productive member in society.  I was determined to become an advocate for people living with disability by pursuing a degree in Social Work.
        In senior school, I aimed for the ‘back door’ entry to a Social Work Degree, applying for the lower TER (Tertiary Entrance Rank) option of a Bachelor of Arts. Whilst I was in all mainstream classes within the top 20% of my year, I was physically slower than my peers.  I found typing laborious and due to physical restraints, my speed was exceptionally slow. I worked diligently on weekends whilst my friends were having parties disguising Passion Pop as lemonade! I did not feel deprived though, I was on a mission to succeed.
        My mum encouraged me to sit my HSC over two years. I adamantly refused. If the other students could do it then so could I. Stubbornness is my second nature! When I sat my exams, I used a scribe, quite a feat with my speech impairment. However, my scribe was a teacher’s aide who knew me well and was particularly essential for drawing angles in maths when my hands asserted their own authority!
        During exams I would verbalise my answers and was awarded extra time. Sometimes my exams were four hours long, which was extremely draining. For my final exams, I was put in a small, separate room lacking ventilation. An ‘observer’ supervised me, to ensure I didn’t cheat. We were all supervised actually and they were predominantly middle aged women knitting or reading a Woman’s Day magzine. All in all, the exams fatigued me greatly, this is why I opted for a course requiring a lower TER.

But I was fiercely determined to succeed. I felt my future held promise and I was prepared to embrace the next chapter of my life.

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2 – Get a Hair Cut and Get a Real Job

By | Uncategorized
Chapter 2 
Get a Hair Cut and Get a Real Job
by Lauren Hislop 

Still wearing my pyjamas, I stared out of the window, anxiously awaiting the postman. This particular morning, I expected a letter to determine my fate: to be accepted into university or not to be. The postman pulled up in front of my house. I walked as fast as my crooked legs could carry me and grabbed the letter from his hand.
        I opened the envelop in the kitchen with my mum standing anxiously behind me. I was offered a position in the Bachelor of Arts degree! Exhilaration flooded over me. I was to study at University of Newcastle, Ourimbah campus, only 10 minutes from our house. Firmly believing that a university degree provided assurance of employment, I eagerly waited for my studies to commence.
        When I met Ruth, the university disability officer, I was so impressed that she was in a wheelchair and we shared an instant bond. Ruth offered a certain empathy beyond what an able-bodied officer might possess. Her presence had a profound influence on my life. Ruth’s competency in her role affirmed my conviction that I would be gainfully employed and prosper myself, regardless of disability.
        Ruth offered me an array of support including note takers during lectures. Note Takers? I was mystified. During senior high school, due to my slow typing, I would photocopy notes from willing peers. Providing me with note takers was invaluable.

The world of university was infused with vibrant colours. Studying subjects such as Sociology, Anthropology and Philosophy were catalysts for a paradigm shift. My subject choices also ensured that if I wanted to transfer into Social Work in the future, I would gain credits.
        The campus was surrounded by lush trees, rendering it an ideal setting conducive to lofty ideals. Utilising an electric wheelchair, I sped through the campus, parking it outside the lecture theatres.
        Sitting in my first Anthropology lecture was transformative - the opportunity to respectfully immerse myself in other cultures. As someone who has regularly been constructed as an ‘other’, seeking a career that could alter people’s perception of cultural ‘other’, appealed. I also loved the notion of residing in a wooden hut in New Guinea, writing my observations as dusk fell. Romanticism surrounded my idea of traipsing through the jungles with the locals.

Reminiscing my passion for pursuing anthropology, I now realise the absurdity of this dream. I had an incredibly unsteady gait so walking in an isolated jungle probably wasn’t the wisest idea!
        Apart from my impractical aspiration to be an anthropologist, I gave little thought to life after graduation. I yearned for employment but my immediate focus was on completing assessments and passing exams. I achieved good marks during my degree, however, my typing prowess ensured writing essays were an arduous task. Not to be dissuaded, I was fuelled with the spirit of tenacity.
        During my philosophy lectures I was constantly inspired. One of my lecturers even revealed to me that an academic in his department had cerebral palsy! I was ecstatic, affirmed in my knowledge that my disability would never be a hindrance to success.
        I also devoted energy towards my social life.  I was invited to parties and although I never participated in mind altering substances, I enjoyed observing the hedonistic behaviour of my peers. Laughing, conversations and red wine are distinctly associated with my early uni days, as well as lasting friendship. I met one of my best friends, Jo, during this time and she has left an imprint on my soul. We remain friends.
        In second year, I had my first taste of advocacy. Ruth had left her role, replaced by a young woman with little spark in her eyes. Shortly after entering the role, she removed note takers as support for students with disability. I was incensed. Inspired by mum’s strong advocacy in my past, I unleashed my own ability to do the same! Instinctively, I knew that advocating would benefit more than me. I produced articulate letters, stating the facts in a calm and rational manner. I adhered to the complaint process and went through the proper channels. When I alerted the student union, they took action. This resulted in the reinstatement of note takers. I felt as though I was a catalyst for change. My pursuit for social justice was firmly set in motion.
After I graduated, I departed from the safe haven of uni, to the realities of the workforce. As a fresh-faced graduate, I could never have anticipated the difficulties I was yet to encounter. I was filled with excitement, having a deep conviction that I would soon be employed.
        My mum asked an old family friend, Chris, to help me source employment. He was the manager of a Disability Employment Service and happy to oblige. He arranged for another senior staff member named Kath to assist me. Whilst extremely kind, Kath was perplexed how to help me and looked at me with a vacant stare. I expected her to utter the words ‘we don’t know how to help you’. After she suggested I apply for secretarial work, my indignation grew. ‘I studied a university degree only to qualify for a secretarial position?’ However, on reflection, my Bachelor of Arts didn’t really qualify me for many roles.
        I was offered work experience at their employment service. I found it an interesting environment but was curious that, as an identified disability agency, no-one with a disability was employed there!
        I did appreciate the experience of working in an office and was given the opportunity to complete a research project. The details are hazy in memory but I remember the sense of satisfaction I felt completing it. I enjoyed exchanging anecdotes with staff in the lunchroom, whilst eating peanut butter sandwiches under bad florescent lighting.
        Finding out that many of the employees had no tertiary qualifications, induced a small pang of resentment. I thought, ‘Why are they employed and yet the service can’t find me a position?’
        At the time, I didn’t acknowledge that my difficulties finding work may be caused by discriminatory attitudes. I believed it was because my Bachelor of Arts degree wasn’t ‘career-focused’. This prompted me to apply for a second degree in Social Work.
        I believed a Social Work degree would automatically lead to employment and enable me to pursue my dream of becoming a disability advocate.  I was convinced that I was on the path to success, and if my Arts degree was a detour, it was one of the most enjoyable detours I have ever experienced!