2009 was the year I completed my Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne. During that year I had to do a placement to develop the skills I had learnt at the university.
Usually the university organizes the placements but for some reason they couldn’t find a place for me and I realised that I had to look for my own placement. At that point in my life I didn’t really know about the organisations out there because I had never used any before.
Despite being somewhat different to my peers I had (and still do to a certain extent) lived a pretty insular life and hadn’t branched out much. I’d certainly had no experience of the disability sector and had for years been scared of people who had severe disabilities.
This lack of knowledge and experience led me on a wild goose chase and doing lots of online searching. For the life of me I can’t remember where it led me but somehow I stumbled onto the Yooralla website. While there was no mention of social workers on the site, there was reference to advocacy and community development, and so I decided to go out on a whim and send the organisation an email. I have no recollection as to what I wrote so I couldn’t tell you whether I mentioned my condition and my slight disability.
Somehow that email ended up in the inbox of my now co-worker and she too went out on a whim and decided to give me a chance. She agreed to meet with me to discuss the possibility of doing my university placement with her.
For some reason I was extremely nervous about meeting this woman and in retrospect I realise was one of the biggest steps of my life because it led to my whole world changing.
My walking was bad at this point but I was in denial and hadn’t really come to terms with it. Who likes facing their fears?
However when I walked into the Yooralla office my disability became a reality. I realised that I was going to have to do something about it. Maybe it was meeting my co-worker who met me at reception in her scooter or it was the few clients who were waiting for their appointments. Some were in wheelchairs and some were in scooters. It was a lot to take in at once, especially when I was already so nervous about my interview.
The woman didn’t confront me about my disability from what I can recall and so when I accepted the position I didn’t think to bring my walking frame which at that time spent most of its time at home, hidden somewhere.
No, it wasn’t her. It was actually her manager who one day asked me into her office. I thought it was just to talk about what her role was and what I would be doing on my placement. Instead she gently approached the topic of my disability. How she had noticed I needed to use the wall to support myself when walking along the corridor to my desk. She was worried about my safety and I guess the safety of others.
I remember breaking down and we decided that it was time to bring Scarlet out of the closet and use it at work.
Because of this woman I had to face my disability and of course there was resentment at first but eventually because of her my life became easier. I didn’t have to worry about feeling off balance and she also helped me become determined not to end up in a wheelchair. Of course there were other people and factors that contributed to this change in me, but I will always be grateful to this one woman who helped me face my biggest fear.
Writing this post is my way of saying thank you to her.