Baulkham Hills parent calls for change to the way we ‘think, talk and act’ about disability

Rebecca Hodge, pictured with her dad, TonyA Baulkham Hills family have said that ‘inclusion is about more than physical presence’, when it comes to ensuring that people with a disability are valued within the community.

Tony and Ann Hodge’s daughter Rebecca, 32, has been a supported employee at Endeavour Foundation’s Castle Hill site for ten years, after forays into open employment demonstrated just how far we, as a society, are from genuine inclusion.

“We were initially encouraged to look at mainstream employment for Rebecca and, whilst we had reservations, we wanted to give her every possible opportunity,” Tony said.

“From the outset she was given unrealistic tasks. Rebecca has really bad eyesight and visibly thick glasses, yet in one placement she was asked to clean the windows when she couldn’t possibly see smudges. At the same place she was asked to do a two hour shift, but then had to wait three hours for a bus to take her home. Every day she came home crying, because she didn’t feel included or of value.

“Rebecca has a heart condition that means she has to be careful around cats, yet another placement was at a cattery. The lack of engagement with Rebecca’s needs and abilities told us that, in the general run of things, open employment just wasn’t going to work.”

Tony, the chair of Endeavour Foundation’s Sydney Area Committee, said that his daughter’s experiences were far from unusual.

“A friend of Rebecca’s worked in a supermarket, stacking bread. She did brilliantly because she was really well supported by her manager but, on her lunch break, everyone sat in one place while she sat by herself. That’s heartbreaking.

“Then, when a new manager came in, she lost her job and couldn’t find another, but wasn’t entitled to disability benefits because she was considered able for open employment. That’s a hopeless situation.”

Despite these challenges, Tony says that the availability of meaningful supported employment is a ‘game changer’ for people with an intellectual disability.

“From Rebecca’s first day with Endeavour Foundation and, prior to that, Cumberland Industries, she wanted to go back. She loves it so much that if she can’t go to work she cries.

“Of course, like any workplace, there are challenges, but they’re resolved quickly and respectfully.

“At the end of the working day she’s tired and she’s happy. She comes home talking about what she’s done and what she’s going to be working on the next day. The opportunities are varied and she’s always learning something new.

“For Rebecca, getting a payslip – just like her big brother – is so important, and the money she earns is hers to spend as she pleases,” Tony said.

Describing how Rebecca is now ‘surrounded’ by friends at work, Tony said that there is much more still to be done if we are to have a truly inclusive society, but that the National Disability Insurance Scheme offers hope for change.

“Even when my wife Ann was fighting for the right opportunities for Rebecca as she went through school, our priority was to make sure she didn’t fall through the cracks.

“The fact that Rebecca feels she contributes to and is actually a valued part of the ‘real world’ is what any parent would want for their child. It’s not easy providing that level of support and fostering engagement with such a diverse range of abilities but, all power to them, the staff at Endeavour Foundation manage it.”