Image by Philip Bohle
Maria’s career journey from a cleaner to team leader, support worker and role model underscores the transformative power of shared learning and a commitment to inclusivity.
Her story is a testament to the impact one person can have on the lives of those with disability, proving that with dedication and the right support, anyone can become a catalyst for positive change in the community.
Becoming a Trailblazer in Disability Support
In 1999, Maria embarked on a career journey that not only transformed her life but also created a positive impact on those she worked with. Starting out as a cleaner in a disability service, Maria’s path shifted thanks to an unexpected opportunity at her workplace.
While undertaking cleaning work, when her children were young, Maria learnt about the programs available for people with disability in her workplace. She learnt about disability support volunteering and what the role entailed. She was interested in how the programs helped to empower individuals to develop life skills and engage in activities. Under the guidance of a mentor, Maria learned to communicate effectively with participants, opening up a world of possibilities for mutual connection and interaction.
“I learned a lot of skills with how to adjust an activity to suit someone’s capabilities. So, breaking down tasks and everything in that role to help them achieve their goals. Disability support is not just about going out and keeping someone amused or just filling in their day. It’s about how we socialise and what that means for someone living with a disability. ”
Expressing her true potential
Maria soon found herself filling in on support worker shifts, despite her lack of formal qualifications. Determined to excel, Maria took the initiative to pursue disability training while she continued to work as a cleaner. Maria’s potential was recognised, and she was provided with the support she needed to thrive in her newfound role.
Maria learned to tailor activities to suit individuals, breaking down tasks and fostering an environment where clients could achieve their goals. With a mindset of goal-setting Maria found opportunities to grow and develop, take on more leadership roles, and with her children older and more independent, she could extend on her skills and offer mentoring opportunities with her colleagues and other support workers from different organisations.
“I was just thriving and loving the education… the support that I was given at that first job and the support I started giving.”
Image by Philip Bohle
Sharing her experience and uniting with others
Throughout her career, Maria’s creative approach to programs, such as ballroom dancing, showcased her ability to make learning enjoyable for both clients and support workers. Her commitment to breaking down barriers was evident in her efforts to make every individual feel included and valued.
“We had some clients who would stand in a corner and just observe. I would gradually go over and offer a high five as we are dancing past, then others started to do the same. And then one day a client came and linked arms with me and joined the program. And it was great! The client achieved their goal, to join the program despite challenges with social interaction.”
Maria has not only helped to enrich the lives of program participants, but her work has also served as a continuous learning experience for her through the years. As the dynamics of the group occasionally changed with new clients joining, Maria has always been flexible in her approach. Adapting to different situations and challenges, she has maintained a strong sense of unity within the group, thanks to her life experience and wisdom.
She also has a strong commitment to advocating for the rights and agency of people with disability, challenging stereotypes and assumptions.
“It’s important to recognise the richness and fulfillment in the lives of individuals with disability. The best thing about working in disability is there’s so much reward in helping someone achieve a goal. And to do that you just need to break things down to succeed.”
Leading with integrity
As a team leader, Maria guides staff who may not yet fully understand the values of agency and equality. She helps them to see individuals they support as people first, emphasizing their common humanity rather than focusing on their disability. Maria employs a patient and empathetic approach, engaging in one-on-one conversations with staff to ensure they grasp the core principles of respect and dignity. She highlights the challenges, from managing challenging behaviours to handling personal care tasks, ensuring potential staff members are well-informed about the demands of the job. To foster understanding, Maria provides hands-on experiences, inviting staff to assist her in certain tasks, breaking down preconceived notions about difficulty and discomfort.
Maria also believes in the importance of maintaining positive communication with staff, recognising their strengths, offering constructive feedback and time to reflect. Her dedication to education, understanding, and positive reinforcement, her belief in the capacity for personal growth and change, coupled with her commitment to fostering a respectful and inclusive environment, has been instrumental in her career journey in disability.
Our sincere thanks to Maria for her contribution to Work with Purpose. To find out more about working in disability access an information guide here.
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