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Chapter 8 – The Internship

By May 12, 2020Disability
by Lauren Hislop 

Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.


Accepting the 30 day internship at the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) was easy, I was infused with excitement because of the many opportunities it offered.  
      Supervision would be provided by Prof Karen Fisher and DChristina Purcell, both predominantly researching issues pertaining to disability, matching my interest! To ensure fatigue would be minimised, I requested to work two days a week and my supervisors agreed, their flexibility put me at ease. 
      But I was daunted by other aspects of this new adventure. Firstly, it was in Sydney and would be an 8 hour day so, commuting back and forth from the Central Coast would be exhausting. I would need to spend two nights each week in Sydney. 
      So, I stayed at The Centre in Randwick - a bed and breakfast run by nuns which my Catholic mother was happy to learn! My accommodationwith bleached white walls, was immaculately clean and simple, complete with a single bed and a small bathroom. 
      In order for me to stay in Sydney I had to arrange personal care - no mean feat in the days before the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). I was fortunate to have the guidance of Claire, a fantastic community worker who found appropriate supports for morning personal care, driving to and from work, meal preparation and shopping. 
      I shared a ride with a friend on Sunday nights to start work on Monday morning and would return home by train in the late afternoon of Tuesday. My mobility at the time allowed me to do this and once again much of the organising was undertaken by my mum. Her role has always been instrumental.  

It was time to start my internship and on a crisp May morning, as stumbled across the campus with the loud sounds of planes flying overhead, I thought “we’re not in Kansas now, Toto. 
      I was warmly greeted by Dr Purcell, whushered me into a room to discuss my first task: a literature review about individualised funding for disability care, where allocated funding provides people choice in the selection of their supports. I found this a revolutionary concept, having not had the opportunity to select my own carers and feeling at the mercy of agencies when workers were either patronising or had just not shown up! This really was the first rumblings of the NDIS and it felt like a utopian dream.  
      During my first day I patiently waited for IT to log me into my accounthad choice over the timing of my lunch and decided to take my break at 1pm, walking a small hike to the uni café to purchase banana bread and tea. Not the healthiest of lunches but one which involved no packaging to open. Fortunately, the café staff graciously carried my tea to the table after a couple of spills by me, the stains of which I failed to hide from my colleagues. 
      Whilst I attended meetings and had weekly sessions with my supervisor, the majority of my work was solitary, spending hours on a PC, scouring journal articles for my literature review. Dr Purcell’s guidance was invaluable, she would often question me regarding my perspective as a person with a disability. This instilled in me a sense of worth and validation. 
      Government agencies would request the SPRC to conduct stakeholder meetings and Prof. Fisher would request I attend with her. On one occasion, we met with the Manager for Community Living and Emergency Response for the Department of Human Services, who asked Karen to conduct an evaluation of individual service packages for people with disabilities. We were ushered into a plush tall building with security like Fort Knox and it was during this meeting that I directly saw how research could greatly impact people’s lives. My conviction was bolstered. I could improve the living conditions for people with disability through my passion for research. 
      Both my supervisors invited me to meetings with fellow researchers at SPRC and I found this extremely stimulating, especially as I was actively encouraged to speak up and was engaged in the discussions. I felt valued as a team member. 

During my internship, I was asked by a friend training workers in a Diploma of Disability whether I would present a talk about the research I had participated in at SPRC. Chris was specifically interested in the provision of individual packages for people living with disabilities and offered me renumeration for the presentation. I was blown away!  
      I was granted permission by my supervisors to put together a presentation as long as SPRC was acknowledged and I was ecstatic, this was my golden opportunity. Arriving at the presentationI was confronted with 10-15 students peering at me and I studied their expressions intently as Chris read out my paper. I found the students' reactions priceless and afterwards I was praised and some seemed in genuine awe, which inflated my ego to the size of a hot air balloon. Returning home, I quickly came back down to earth. My internship was coming to an end. 

I have blurred memories of this time in my life, working two days a week and commuting back and forth from Sydney was tiring and on top of this I had additional commitments. Prior to my internship, I had agreed to participate in a program run by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA)assisting young adults with cerebral palsy engage with study and/or work. I was paired with a mentor and had fortnightly group sessions in Newcastle. Luckily, I was able to travel by car with another Central Coast participant.  
      On top of my internship and CPA commitments, my partner and I were searching for rental properties in Newcastle. I would travel to his place on Thursday nights and leave Saturday afternoonI remember arriving at my accommodation in Sydney each Sunday night and taking refuge in the solitude, a welcome respite from the busyness that was my life. 
      Amidst all this chaos, I thrived in my work environment. In the last few weeks, Christina mentioned I should have lunch with the other staff members, in the staff roomhad been eating at the café for pragmatic not antisocial reasons: I couldn’t carry my cup of tea back to the staff room. I hadn’t mentioned this to Christina, I did not want assistance and yet, on reflection, I believe she would have wanted me to have told her. Christina had always been extremely accommodating. So, I ended up having water instead of tea, engaging in conversations with my colleaguesvivacious without caffeine! 
      On my last day I shared a tea with Karen and Christina, sharing laughter and idle chitchat. I produced my literature review which was well received.  
      My internship was a success!  
      I thoroughly enjoyed my internship and was now eager to start my new life with my partner, Dudley. 

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