Life is for Living 2005: 25 New Zealanders living with disability tell their stories
Gail - Being involved in the community
My name is Gail Stacey. I am a 39-year-old Australian who lives with her husband Ian and dog Sammy in Ruakaka, Northland. I had a severe vision impairment including a bad squint that has recently been corrected by an operation. I have gone from very short-sighted (bottom of milk bottle glasses) to short-sighted (fashion glasses).
I really enjoy getting out in the garden, running mad with our dog down the beach, taking photos and being creative. I even enjoy lawn mowing. My husband has introduced me to photography so we go out and take lots of photos on our days off.
My parents-in-law live on the same property and we get on great, we look out for each other and they always see if I need anything down the shops if they are going.
My schooling was not fun and I try not to remember it. When I was starting school my parents were told I didn't need glasses and I got off to a really bad start. Later on, when I had glasses, I sat in the front of many classes in many mainstream schools, but I had no extra support and I missed out on a lot of learning opportunities. We later found out I could have gone to a school for the blind but I went to a state secondary school and got some support. I did not achieve anything like my potential and left with quite low self-esteem. I do hope it's a different reality for mainstreamed students today.
When I was about 17, I was sent to a rehabilitation centre and, after receiving training in using a switchboard and in administration work, I worked there training others to use the switchboard. I discovered early on I like working with and for other disabled people. In my 20s I went to a TAFE (the Australian equivalent of a polytechnic) and got a Human Services Certificate. I got help and support there. It was a mixture of more support being available, my knowing what I could ask for - like enlarged notes etc - and my having the confidence to ask for that assistance. Then I worked in Sydney Hospital and in St Vincent's Hospital on the switchboard and in administration. Then I met Ian and came to New Zealand.
At that stage no-one would operate on my eyes. I was restricted in the sort of work I could do, but I was also restricted about how I saw myself. I felt that when I had a strong squint people related to me quite differently, they were less comfortable with me and had lower expectations for me. While there were some limitations on what I could do because of my limited vision, my lack of self-esteem or belief in myself held me back. I put limits on myself.
"It is great to be part of a workplace where disabled people work with and for disabled people."
I have worked at a number of jobs here and in Australia where employers and fellow employees have said that my sight problems would not affect my work and promotion opportunities, or affect how they relate to me. But there have been problems, or a lack of recognition of my needs and my skills. There may have been barriers to establishing casual friends, although real friends recognise you for who you are.
My sight got worse and it was successfully operated on. My squint was significantly reduced and my eyesight dramatically improved.
I now work at a large retailer on the weekend as cashier. This is where my husband works also so we get to work together, which is great. I work on a voluntary basis as the Disabled Persons Assembly Northland's Secretary.
"I see my future in family life and in work to do with assisting people with disabilities to participate in, and have access to, their communities - as they have a right to."
I am currently working at the Tai Tokerau Disability Empowerment Advocacy Support Trust as a part-time personal assistant to the manager. This is a great place to work.
I am getting what I believe I need at the Te Tai Tokerau DEAS Trust - a mentor, guidance, training, inclusion and respect. I use a19-inch LCD monitor to work with my manager and that seems to work fine. I am lucky to be able to work somewhere that is aligned with my values and which I feel is doing excellent work in the community.
Access to affordable public transport would be great. My vision impairment means I am not able to hold a driver licence so I rely on my family, friends and co-workers and sometimes the local school bus to get to and from work.
I miss my independence sometimes; when I lived in Sydney there was public transport to get around. I am lucky to have the support I do, because if I didn't, my work and living options would be even less.
"Disabled people will be valued, included, and able to participate in the community. To achieve this, some of the obvious barriers to participation, like access, mobility, transport etc will need to be removed. But, equally, work will need to be done in the area of people's attitudes and valuing people's differences."
I would like to do a course in Whangarei but I cannot do an evening class and get home. I would like to learn about Māori culture and I would like to learn sign language.
So far my limited education and training and my sight impairment have held me back from getting some well-paid jobs. Now my vision is better I could earn more money in other administration - type jobs, but it is clear to me that the area I want to contribute in, and my dream, is to work in the disability sector.
In the past, and even today, disabled people are often not seen in the community. They are not seen as someone with impairment, but rather as someone disabled to either be taken pity on or put on a pedestal. When I hear someone say of a disabled person 'Oh they are working? Isn't that great…' I think, how condescending, we all have a right to work. This is where we are now.
My vision for our society 10 years from now is that people will realise that, yes, we are all different; not just in our hair colour, country of origin and values, but that some of us have an impairment and can be different too.
However, we all have skills and can make a contribution to our communities in our own way. Hopefully we will see more people with impairments out and about in the community, taking leadership roles and taking part in everyday activities, going to work and being able to make choices about their lives.