Opinion | 3 February 2015

Ready for work but is work ready for me?

Fresh from participating in the Special Olympics Torch Run through Melbourne, Pippa Swanwick is gleeful about being interviewed on the Channel 7 news about her role in the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Pippa is attracted to performing and Glee is one of her favourite shows. She loves to sing as you can see here in this YouTube clip of her song Here all along.

Four years ago, Pippa participated in the Ignition Theatre Performing Arts Course at the Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE. Since then, she has made a video about being bullied at school and the loneliness she still experiences through not feeling accepted in many social settings.

As well as writing songs and making videos, Pippa helps out at home – particularly with caring for pets – participates in the art studio at Northern Support Services, and goes to her current part-time supermarket job.

Like other jobs she has had in the past, the work is well within her capability but it doesn’t meet her aspirations for social inclusion.

Social acceptance is related to the role a person is given in the workplace. Why, with all her performance skills and ability with words, has Pippa not been welcomed into a ‘front of house’ job? So far her paid work has been out the back – in fast food kitchens or shelf stacking – never in customer service. This is a common experience of people with disability, regardless of their many abilities.

She is still searching for somewhere she will feel accepted, when people will see through her disability not judge her by it.

“What hurts the most,” Pippa says, “is that the other staff don’t include me in their conversations and social activities. I’d like a job where I had real workmates.”

What can she do about her disappointment with her job placement?

Like most people, she would like to have a job where she has a respected role and social contact. Her dream job would be to be part of the ensemble at Back to Back Theatre. The theatre is based in Geelong in the Barwon launch site for the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The position she is seeking will be hotly contested by other talented people with disabilities hungry for social acceptance and friendship in their work.

Pippa has skills, a sense of humour, lots of personality and experience. Until she gets a role where she can shine, it seems people won’t see past her Down Syndrome.

That’s their loss, too.

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