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Just another 13-hour day for Josh - A DES success story

Mon, 15 Aug 2011, 09:34 AM

North Shore Times, Charis Chang, 12 August 2011

People with disabilities too often fight against the perception that they are less than competent. But many want to work and are just waiting for an employer to give them a chance. Charis Chang follows a determined employee who has earned his place in the workforce.

4.30am: Narrabeen
If you have never seen what 4.30am looks like just ask Josh Ieli. That’s what time this 21-year-old gets up every week day.
Generally he is the only soul seen walking in the dark, empty and bitterly cold streets.
When photographer Chris McKeen and I turn up to meet him, Josh is already waiting outside.
It takes him just 15 minutes to shower and dress before he is out the door each morning. “Just in time,” Josh says to us, smiling.
To him it is just the start of his usual 2 1/2 hour journey to Lane Cove where he works as part of Growing Care’s maintenance crew.

4.53am: Pittwater Rd bus stop
The quiet of early morning is broken by the noise of an occasional car and more jarringly, the rumble of a semi-trailer.
Above us the quarter moon appears to give us a wry smile. Josh is in own his own little world, he has his iPod on and is listening to heavy metal music. “It keeps me awake,” he explains.
On the way to the bus stop he points out the Narrabeen Sands Hotel where he used to wash dishes. “I would work until 2am and then go to school the next day, they put me in the school newsletter for that,” he tells me proudly.
“I have worked since I was 15 years old, my parents said it was important for me to start working early.”

4.55am: L90 bus to the city
There are only about eight other people on the bus and Josh heads straight for a seat at the back. We manage to catch an earlier service than his usual 5.15am bus.
Josh, who has an intellectual disability, could get to work quicker but this would involve catching three or four different buses, which would add too many variables to his routine.
He says he has never missed his bus to work, which is his first permanent position: “It is my favourite job so far, I enjoy the company of the people,” he says,``They are easy to get along with.’‘

5.30am: Wynyard Park
The bus fills up as we get closer to the city but it is still dark as we cross the Harbour Bridge. Like most of the other passengers Josh falls into a bleary-eyed reverie, ``daydreaming’’ he tells me when I ask him.
I ask him whether the early starts bother him and he answers with the vehemence of a 21-year-old: ``My social life has gone down the drain, I hardly go out now on Friday nights,’’ he says shaking his head. ``The job always comes first,’’ he says. ``No job, no parties, no anything else. You have got to have something behind you to pay for things, if getting up early means I can have it, fair enough.’‘

5.40am: Margaret St bus stop
Josh walks through the underground passageway at Wynyard Station, stopping to pick up breakfast that he devours at the bus stop. His face lights up as he tells us that he recently got his P-plates. Although he already has a car he is saving for a new one. ``It’s all I think about, insurance, gas, rego.’’

6.29am: 285 bus to Lane Cove
Josh sees a friend on the bus and sits down for a chat.``He’s my mate, I always see him on the bus, every day,’’ he says. As we cross the Harbour Bridge again, this time in the opposite direction, we finally see our first glimpse of sunrise.

6:51am: Orion Rd, Lane Cove West
From the bus stop it’s a short walk to Josh’s workplace in the industrial precinct of Lane Cove. We arrive at 7am. There are five other guys standing around, smoking and talking. One has been here since 6.15am, after dropping off friends to work. Another has driven from Campbelltown to get here by 6.20am to beat the traffic. They chat about fishing and good naturedly tease Josh about being a star.

7.30am: Growing Care
The group grows until the boss arrives. ``We love Josh, he is a hard worker,’’ contracts supervisor David Carter says. Today the team will be doing garden maintenance. When it’s raining they do cleaning. Work finishes between 2.30pm and 3.30pm. Josh says the toughest part is learning new things.

The journey
Josh struggled to find full-time work after school but got help from Job Centre Australia Chatswood, who specialise in finding employment for people with a disability.
Workplace assessor Chelsea Chapman said they built self-esteem in clients, providing training, support, coaching on personal presentation and workplace etiquette. The organisation also visited workplaces, helped clients to learn their tasks and showed them how to get to work. A lot of time is spent matching clients to the right job. She said employees with disabilities generally took less time off work and tended to change positions less frequently, which resulted in well trained, loyal long-term employees.

Northern Sydney operations manager Di Agnew said there was still a perception that disability equated to a wheelchair. ``But they only represent five per cent of our clientele,’’ she said. Conditions can include people with dyslexia, mental health, anxiety, physical or intellectual disabilities. Government funding is also available for equipment required to support their clients.
If you are interested in hiring a person with a disability go to www.jobcentreaustralia.com.au

A division of the House With No Steps, it has maintenance contracts with Manly, Randwick and Hornsby councils as well as M2, Transfield, Bankstown Airport and Westlink. All of the employees, except the team leaders, have a disability.’’ Go to www.hwns.com.au

Click here for more photos of Josh’s journey

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