Actor Duncan Armstrong stars in a series of new videos released by the Health and Disability Commissioner and the Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service to help people with learning disabilities think about their own experiences with using disability services and their rights under the Code.

There are five videos, each with a different story. The videos look at how Sam, played by Duncan, and his friends use disability support services and how they resolve any concerns that they have.

The videos were produced by Film for Change Aotearoa and made locally in Wellington with Wellington actors, including people who use disability services.

Each video has a closed captions option, and the closed captions and slides have been transcribed into Word documents. Deaf Aotearoa has created New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) for each video.

 

By John Pike
Where do you work?
Right here at Slaughterhaus – the graphic design company where CHAT 21 is produced.

John on cleaning duties at Lighthouse Brewery

How long have you worked here?
11 months.
How many hours each week?
6 hours.
What jobs do you do at your work?
I do the cleaning in the design studio and in Lighthouse Brewery next door.

John with his boss Dan and colleague Taylor.

How does it make you feel that you have a job?

It makes me feel good.

What do you like the most about your work?
Having a beer at Lighthouse Brewery after work on Friday and getting paid.
What don’t you really like about your work?
Cleaning the floor.
Do you have any other paid or volunteer jobs as well?
I help in the garden at Hohepa.
What would be your dream job?
Beer taster.

By David Skipworth

Not many people would get away with interrupting Warriors coach Stephen Kearney while he’s delivering a team talk.

Fewer still would dare to continue to speak over the top of the notoriously stern former Kiwis back rower and World Cup winning coach.

But Mark Dekker – or ‘Mark Carter’ as he prefers to be known – is the exception to the rule, and the one person guaranteed to turn Kearney’s frown upside down.

The 31-year-old with down syndrome began working with the Warriors football staff earlier this season and has been welcomed into the club’s inner sanctum in his role as the team’s official water runner.

The longtime Warriors supporter enjoys exclusive access to the players and is regularly included in their team huddles, joining in their breathing exercises and sharing a few motivational words in the lead-up to game day.

He picks and chooses his moments to speak and feels comfortable enough to interject – even if Kearney is delivering a fierce verbal spray to his players.

“We might be getting a growling and Mark will just walk into the huddle and stand under Mooks’ arm or start talking over someone,” explained front-rower James Gavet.

“Everyone will be grinning and you glance over at Mooks and even he’ll give us a look that says, ‘I really want to be angry but I can’t right now’.

“It’s usually all business and there’s not a lot of time to joke around, but Mark brings out a different side and can lighten the mood.”

Mark Dekker in his role with the Warriors. Photo / Greg Bowker

Dekker’s connection with the Warriors began earlier this year when Kiwi Ferns playmaker and club community relations coordinator, Georgia Hale, offered him the opportunity to get involved.

Twice a week, rain, hail or shine, Carter and his caregiver, Leighton Swann, can be found at Mt Smart Stadium, helping Warriors team manager Laurie Hale prepare water bottles and equipment at training.

The club issued Dekker with his own timesheet that he fills out after each shift and his contribution to the club gives him enjoyment and adds some structure to his week.

“He comes into most sessions so he’s got a bit of a presence amongst the group and staff,” said Kearney.

“He helps fill the water bottles and the boys have embraced him. He does a pretty good job.”

Prior to the Warriors’ round three win over Canberra, Dekker was invited to share a few words in the team huddle, when he borrowed a line from Kiwi social media star William Waiirua: “Do the mahi, get the treats.”

“The boys were all buzzing and came and told us what he’d said,” explained Swann.

“Stephen came over afterwards and gave Mark a big hug and said ‘I think we’ll stick with that saying for the season’.

“Everyone at the club has taken to Mark and shown him a lot of love. I’ve got a lot of time for the Hale family, they’ve got big hearts and Lozza needs to be commended for what he does with Mark.

“It’s so awesome to see the genuine care and love they have for him and whanau environment they have created.”

While most Warriors fans would nominate club icons such as Stacey Jones, Manu Vatuvei, or star halfback Shaun Johnson as their favourite player, Dekker is taken by Mark Carter – the former All Black who switched codes to play just eight games for the club back in 1996.

“That’s the name that he associates with and Carter’s Warriors number was 31,” explained Swann.

“Every time he goes into the sheds he shows the boys number 31 and the name Mark Carter.

“It might not be the most popular choice but its Mark’s choice and he likes the name as well.”

Dekker is particularly close with Gavet, along with wing Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and ISP centre Junior Pauga, but has won the entire club over through his infectious sense of humour, positivity and work ethic.

Mark Dekker greets Warriors forward James Gavet. Photo / Greg Bowker

“They’re a good team,” said Dekker. “Rugby league is a great game and they are my good mates. It’s awesome.

“We work hard but when you do the mahi, you get the treats.”

Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck says Dekker’s presence helps keep the players grounded and serves as a reminder of how the club can help people out in the community.

“It just puts things in perspective having him here,” said Tuivasa-Sheck.

“He’s a big supporter of the club and no matter what happens or goes on he always turns up with a smile on his face which keeps the boys happy.”

 

Mark Dekker who was born with Down syndrome is regularly helping the NZ Warriors NRL rugby league team at training sessions at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland. 9 June 2018 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Greg Bowker.

Mark Dekker in his role with the Warriors. Photo / Greg Bowker

Copyright: New Zealand Herald.

Down Right  

Roseanne develops own photography business 

By Dave Nicholl 

 

An Invercargill woman  has turned her passion for photography into a business. 

Roseanne  Zyskowski, who has Down syndrome,  has put 101 photos of her  favourite  places throughout  Invercargill  into a calendar. 

Zyskowski, who has been a photographer for a year now,  has taken pictures of  the Reading Cinemas, Queens Park, Thompsons bush  as well as her own backyard. 

The most difficult part of the project was  getting  motivated on some days but with the help of family,  friends  and support  workers  she got it finished,  Zyskowski said. 

Her mother Clare  developed the idea after  attending  a  social enterprise  workshop held in  Invercargill  in November. 

The initiative was  run by the  Ākina  Foundation with the support of  the Community Trust of Southland, Venture Southland  and the  Southland Regional Development  Strategy group. 

The idea was to give Roseanne a way in which she could use her passion for photography to support herself. 

“When people hear the  word  ’syndrome’ the  story  they have in their head might be quite different to the way a lot of young people with Down syndrome are growing up and developing.” 

The vision  she developed at the workshop was to change the story around people  living  with down  syndrome and  give  them the  opportunity to stand on their own feet. 

Included on the back of the calendar was a quote “No disability, only people,” that was designed to encourage others that those living with disabilities  are just  normal people in the community. 

The hope was that by showing Roseanne how she could develop her passion for photography, she could turn it  in to  a microbusiness. 

“She can actually take her  photography and do something with it.” 

If the business did not succeed it would still be a valuable learning opportunity for  Roseanne, Clare said. 

Each  photo had a story or a person behind it,  Roseanne said. 

She is selling the calendars for $22 

 

Rosanne Zyskowski with her calendar

Kavinda Herath/Stuff 

Copyright: Southland Times 

Interview with Peter Rees for Down Write Brilliant

Chat 21’s roving reporter Andrew Oswin interviewed Peter Rees, a young man with Down syndrome from Christchurch, about his job.

 

What is it you like doing at your job at Pomeroy’s?

Serving out the food and the drinks to the customers.

 

When did you start working at Pomeroy’s?

Ever since before the earthquakes.

 

Where is Pomeroy’s?

Pomeroy’s is located on the corner of Kilmore Street and Fitzgerald Avenue.

 

Why is it important for people with Down syndrome to get paid work?

It is very important because it is a major part of someone’s life.

How did you get the job at Pomeroy’s?

Well it’s a very funny story, actually. One day, Dad and I went to the pub and had a few drinks. But the beer that I had was very strong. It was called Epic Armageddon, and I got a bit drunk, and I walked up to the owner of the pub and I asked for a job and I got the job.

Peter Rees at Pomeroys

I love working at my pre-school

by Hannah Proctor

Footsteps

About three years ago, when I was still at school, I was given an opportunity to try work experience in a pre-school, Footsteps Christan Pre-School, in Christchurch.

My teacher aide came with me to help me twice a week until I was good enough to do my jobs on my own. Then I was able to leave school and go to work there by myself.

I have a uniform and a special name badge.

I drive with my Mum to her work, and then I walk the rest of the way by myself to get to the pre-school.

My jobs are getting the morning tea plates and drinks ready for the children and doing the dishes afterwards. I also get things ready for the children for lunch time as well.

I enjoy playing with the children too, and I love working with the teachers.

Last year they asked me to work another day, so now I work three mornings a week.

They pay me now too. I feel happy to have a paid job. I like spending my money.

The teachers say they love having me working there.

They’re very kind and they give me lots of hugs.

I love my job.

Hannah arriving at work

 

 

By Rebecca Moore/STUFF

 

Flynn Laker is  putting his business hat on, or socks more like it.

At 14-years-old Flynn is learning what it takes to run his own business as well as giving back to causes close to his heart. He has Down  syndrome but is not letting it hold him back from fulfilling his dream of being the boss of a business.

Flynn Laker, 14, sells socks at his popup store at Shelley E Coutts Dance Academy on Tuesday.

With his cousins Nick and Georgia Popham, and his sister Meg Laker, 16, they set up the business Flynn’s Sox.

As well as learning the skills of what it takes to be a businessman, $1 from every sale will go to the Southland Down Syndrome Support Group in Southland.

The launch was aligned with  World Down Syndrome Day on Wednesday, which was why he chose the group as his first charity.

In the future he will donate the money to other charities who have helped him, including Riding for the Disabled and Conductive Education.

When asked about the importance of the business, the first thing Flynn mentioned was supporting charity.

“It’s really positive … the reason we got it is because we need the money for [people with Down syndrome],” he said.

Money will initially go towards helping support people in the region with the condition, then other charities.

On the opening day on Monday more than 200 pairs of socks were sold.

Flynn’s favourite socks were the yellow ones with squiggles – which he called scrambled eggs – and the hot air balloon ones.

However, he picked out all of the many styles of  socks and comes up with quotes to put on tags for each online sale.

Some slogans read “you are the bees knees” and “man you’re going to look cool in my socks”.

Flynn’s mum Tracey Laker said the business was not a lifelong income for him, but starting business was for him to learn the skills of the business and working hard.
“Nothing ever  happens if you don’t put the work in,” she said.

“It’s great to actually help him fulfil  his dream and understand business. It’s wonderful. He’s so lucky that his cousins have been through university and see that he has potential.”

From the moment he was born the family decided he would not be held back by the condition.

“Ever since Flynn was born our philosophy was to support him to be the best he can be and be independent in the future. Children and adults with Down  syndrome have no limit on what they can do. They can be as successful as anyone else.”

The socks were in funky patterns to celebrate difference, she said. “People just love supporting the concept of helping out Flynn in business.”

- Stuff

Numerous services around New Zealand provide opportunities for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities to get employment. Here is a list of providers Chat 21 was  able to locate.


Abilities Incorporated (Auckland) 

Abilities Incorporated employs people with disabilities. 

www.abilities.co.nz 


Able Pet Care 

Able Pet Care is a registered charity and social enterprise that provides quality pet care services in our communities. Our pet care team are people with a disability that are trained, capable, trustworthy people, keen to help you and your pet. We provide services in Wellington, Auckland, Rotorua, Blenheim and Nelson. 

0508 ENABLE (362253)


Brackenridge (Canterbury) 

At Brackenridge, people are our priority, supporting people with learning disabilities and autism to create and lead their lives, their way.  Fantastic normal everyday lives where people are included as valued members in our community and live happy and fulfilling lives. 

www.brackenridge.org.nz 


Career Moves (Waikato) 

Career Moves is a dedicated, stand-alone, Supported Employment service. It is pan-disability and also supports people with long-term injuries, such as brain and spinal injuries. 

www.careermoves.org.nz 


Catapult Employment Services Trust (Canterbury) 

Catapult Employment Services is an employment service for both employers and jobseekers, that has been helping Cantabrians into employment for over 10 years. We have employment consultants and offer a counselling around anxieties with employment.

www.catapult.org.nz 


CCT (Otago) 

We support people with intellectual disabilities and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder to live in their community.

www.cct.org.nz 


Community Living Trust (Waikato) 

Community Living supports 100 people to obtain real meaningful work or to gain the skills to enable them to get a job. 

www.communityliving.org.nz 


Creativeworks Employment Service (Christchurch) 

Creativeworks provides support to people with experience of a mental illness or disability to find employment and then supports them to maintain this for at least six months. 

[email protected] 


Disability Resource Centre Hawkes Bay Trust 

We work to promote opportunities and facilities for the independence, mobility, and recreation of people with disabilities as well as providing occupational, social and personal opportunities and facilities. 

www.drchb.org.nz 


Emerge Supported Employment Trust (Wellington) 

Emerge Supported Employment Trust is a not-for-profit organisation which provides a range of professional supported employment and transition services for people with disabilities in Wellington. 

www.emergetrust.org.nz 


Enrich+ (Te Awamutu) 

Enrich+ supports individuals to have a ‘life like any other’. Through education, employment and empowerment, we help each person to be a real part of the communities of their choice. 

www.enrichplus.org.nz 


Framework 

Framework delivers community based mental health and intellectual disability services in greater Auckland from strategic locations throughout the city. Paramount among these services is community support, supported employment, participation and inclusion. 

www.framework.org.nz 


Geneva Elevator 

Geneva Elevator is a specialist consultancy service offering a wide range of employment, training and support options to clients with diverse needs in Whangarei, Northshore, South Auckland, Wellington and New Plymouth. 

www.genevaelevator.co.nz 


HLC Employment Services (Levin) 

www.hlc.ac.nz 


IDEA Services Ltd 

IDEA Services provides residential, vocational, behaviour support, supported employment, supported living and other support to people with intellectual disabilities throughout New Zealand. 

www.ihc.org.nz 


ImagineBetter 

ImagineBetter has a National reach around Aotearoa and is active on a number of fronts including but not limited to providing a range of supports, workshops, training and resources directly to families of disabled people. 

www.imaginebetter.co.nz 


Inclusion Aotearoa (Palmerston North) 

Inclusion Aotearoa supports families searching for ways to support their children/siblings to have a good life. 

www.inclusionaotearoa.com


LR Training & Development 

LR Training & Development provides career advice and guidance for people who face barriers to employment including health issues, injury and disability. 

www.lrtraining.co.nz 


Manaaki Ability Trust (Hutt Valley) 

Manaaki Ability Trust provides services that include transition from school, vocational support, community participation and centre-based and facilitated programmes. 

www.manaakiabilitytrust.org.nz 


Manawatu Supported Living Trust (Options) 

Options is a supported living agency, based in Plamerston North, which is committed to delivering services and supports in a manner that fit each person’s needs and aspirations. 

www.options.org.nz 


Marian Galvin 

Student Transition Services Auckland Region 

[email protected] 


Matea Trust (Auckland) 

On a rural block in Dairy Flat, just north of Albany, we provide employment opportunities for men with intellectual disabilities in our firewood business. We also offer work experience opportunities to students preparing to leave school and enter the workforce.  

www.mateatrust.co.nz 

 

Poly-Emp Employment and Advisory Service (Auckland) 

Poly-Emp Employment & Advisory Service is a Charitable Trust that assists people with learning disabilities to find paid employment and reach their full potential in their chosen career. 

http://poly-emp.org.nz/ 


Southland disAbility Enterprises 

The overriding objective of Southland disAbility Enterprises Ltd is ‘to increase the participation of people with disabilities in employment and in their community’. 

http://sde.org.nz/ 


Supported Employment Agency Trust (Rotorua) 

www.supportedemploymentagency.org.nz 


Village Community Trust (Workstar Nelson) 

WORKSTAR is a specialist Supported Employment Agency that has served the Nelson economy well for over twenty-five years servicing over 1500 people. Our professional employment service provides free ongoing support. 

www.workstar.co.nz 


Whanganui Disability Resources Centre (Whangarei) 

The Whanganui Disability Resources Centre offers a disability information service, advocacy, supported employment service, short-term hire of wheelchairs and other large items of equipment, and sales of aids and equipment. 

www.whanganuidrc.org.nz 


Workbridge 

Workbridge is the largest New Zealand owned employment agency for people with a disability, injury or illness. Over the past decade, Workbridge staff have arranged over 30,000 jobs for disabled people. Each year around 1,800 employers provide these jobs across a range of industries.  

www.workbridge.co.nz 


Work Opportunities (Otago) 

We are a Supported Employment Service Provider in Dunedin. 

www.workopportunities.org.nz 


Workmates Supported Employment 

Workmates Supported Employment is a charitable trust that provides a completely FREE supported and employment service in the Porirua and greater Wellington region. 

www.workmates.co.nz 

Transition into the workplace and holding down long-term employment remains a challenge for many adults with Down Syndrome. COEN LAMMERS examines the employment sector, the access for people with learning disabilities and the success stories that might inspire others in the community.

New Zealand has a long and proud history of mainstreaming students with disabilities, but many families feel they are dropping off a massive cliff at the end of high school. The pathway between pre-school, primary school and secondary school is clearly sign-posted and well-supported, but where to from there? Finding your own place in the world is an intimidating challenge for every young adult, but for people with Down syndrome and their families, it often feels like the big unknown. Securing employment is a key element for a rewarding life and gives every person a source of pride and independence, but for many people with learning disabilities full-time, long-term employment appears to be a pipe dream.

“New Zealand is doing as well as any other country getting people with disabilities into employment, but we still have a long way to go as far as creating better pathways for younger people,” says Grant Cleland chief executive officer of Workbridge New Zealand. Workbridge is the country’s largest “pan-disability” employment service provider and assists around 3000 people with disabilities to secure employment each year. Over the past decade, Workbridge has linked 36,800 New Zealanders with learning difficulties, mental health issues, sensory, physical and other disabilities or health conditions with a suitable job and supports them to be successful in the workplace. Cleland says that his organisation in 2017-18 had 1,664 employers who listed 4,061 vacancies with us, of which in 1,332 provided a job for our jobseekers and 55% hired more than one person with a disability. The list includes several strong national partnerships like, Accor Hotels, ACC, IRD, Victoria University, Westpac and of course Z-Energy who in recent years alone have employed over 300 people with disabilities. “Those companies are leading way, but the list is growing each week.” He says that the attitudes around employing people with disabilities is changing rapidly and is no longer seen as charity or a community service. “Employers are more willing to try new things, are getting more disability-confident and the conversation around disabilities has become much more genuine,” says Clelland. He says that the staff shortage for many companies has opened their eyes to a new talent pool that they had not considered. “There are a lot of myths around people with disabilities, but the research clearly shows that they are just as productive as any other employee.”

Grant Clelland

Grant Clelland

Cleland says that some employers are wary of looking at this group because they fear that a worker with a disability may require significant support and resourcing, but research shows that less than 10% of disabled jobseekers need some additional support or alteration to their work station. “Research shows that hiring a person with disability has a wonderful impact on the workplace and is also a good reflection of our community as 24% of New Zealanders have some kind of disability, illness or long-term injury.”

Employment is one pathway for people with disabilities, but many families in the Down syndrome community have decided to take control of the situation by creating their own micro-businesses. “Ten years ago, there were maybe five micro businesses around New Zealand, but now there are hundreds,” says Lawrence Chok who has been driving force behind many of those micro-businesses. With a background in the corporate work, Chok decided 11 years ago that he wanted to create a micro-business for his son Robin, who has Down syndrome, but realised he could not do this alone. “Many microbusinesses fall over after 5-10 years when the families simply run out of puff,” says Chok, who formed Family Action Support Team (FAST) with three other families in the Palmerston North area, with a variety of disabilities. Chok visited Canning in Canada to research a successful CAPRE (Community Association of People for Real Enterprise) model and the group started four micro-businesses that tapped into the passions and the skills of their children. He says the past 11 years have been an amazing journey for all four children and even though not all businesses are still going, the work has morphed into new opportunities. One of them still runs a business, while one of the other participants has worked his way through script writing courses and hopes to get employed with Peter Jackson. “And they are all living independently.”

Chok now runs two-day workshops across the country to help families get started and travels around the world to find new innovations to help people with disabilities. Coming from the corporate world, Chok says he was mainly focused on the businesses making a profit and being viable in the traditional sense, but soon discovered that the micro-business model had very different goals and success milestones.“I was looking at it completely the wrong way and the lot of families do, until I realised that this micro-business model needs to be about the total well-being of the individual,” says Chok. “Why do most of us do the job that we do? Because we follow our passion. So why don’t we let our children follow their passion?” He says that many families trying to get and keep their child into employment are struggling and are stressed and that some employers also find it challenging.

“For many it feels like they are banging their heads against the wall,” says Chok who is clearly frustrated that the Government spends millions on securing supported employment but does not encourages micro-businesses, for example by raising the amount a person with a disability can earn before they lose their allowances. Canadians are ahead of Aotearoa as the individual’s microbusiness can earn as much as $9,000 per annum before it affects the individual’s supported living allowance. In the model that Chok shares with families he advocates for working smarter, not harder. “Families need to learn to use the three Os: Other People’s Time, Other People’s Money and Other People’s Services.” He says there are plenty of people in the community who want to support these kind of micro-businesses, and sufficient financial support available among different agencies, once you know how to use the system and access the funding.

Lawrence Chok

Lawrence Chok

Chok says that the positive changes he has seen in the young people he has worked with have been phenomenal. “Once you get total engagement of the individual, they grow in confidence, learn new skills and they walk differently and talk differently.” Chok is the first to admit that a micro-business is not the only pathway for people with disabilities to lead a full life, and says it may not suit every family.

The Te Mahi Trust is one example of families getting together to create a micro-business when Rachel Hill and Alison Faithful in Northland were grappling with their children leaving school. The Trust has a vision to run a catering business or café for young adults with a disability, and have started by purchasing a coffee cart, in which two young adults sell coffees, cold drinks and food, supported by one carer, at community events and at a road side fatigue shop.“ We are hoping the people of Whangarei are ready for it,” says Alison Faithful, who hopes the cart will secure a permanent spot in town soon.

Lawrence Chok and Workbridge’s Grant Clelland are both encouraged by the growing number of success stories in the disability sector, but the latter says the education system needs to do better to prepare people with disabilities for a working life. “Schools do a lot of planning for transition out of school, but it does not often lead to employment. Instead the school transition often leads to a day service option, because their biggest block is access to employers.”

To show schools what is possible, Workbridge last year piloted, Z in schools, where students in Special Units from Papanui and Riccarton High Schools in Christchurch could apply for four internships with Z Energy. This included students with learning disability. The students who might normally have struggled to find employment completed a 12-week internship which led to a Service IQ Level 2 Retail Certificate and for one of the student resulted in a full-time job. The trial has been so successful that it is now extended to Auckland and Dunedin.

Cleland says that some schools are better than others in preparing their students for the workplace. The aim of our work in schools is to create a pathway into employment for disabled school students, with employers who are already employing the jobseekers Workbridge work with. “We think more students need to get the right learning support to prepare them for employment. With Z in School the schools were able to able to teach the Service IQ Level 2 Unit Standards to reinforce the learning in the workplace,” says Cleland who himself grew up with a disability but had parents with high expectations and willing to challenge the status quo.

One company that is proactively trying to fill that gap is Kilmarnock Enterprises, a Christchurch business that employs differently abled people and aims to change attitudes around people with disabilities. The company was founded 60 years ago as a protected workshop but has evolved into a complex, thriving business that focuses on enhancing the skills of their workforce. As a registered charity, all profits are pumped back into Kilmarnock Basecamp, where the company provides education, health, and skills training for its employees. “Our staff learn more skills, which means we get more adept staff who enable us to be more successful. It’s a win-win situation,” says Tim Jones, General Manager Growing Good at Kilmarnock. “We don’t look at the things they can’t do, but find what they are good at, what work they enjoy and then try to build on those personal skills,” says Jones.

Last year, the Kilmarnock Academy was established to help graduates find meaningful, sustainable open employment outside of Kilmarnock. “Previously, our employees came to us, and more often than not, stayed in our employment till retirement,” says Jones. “But we now wish to only be part of their journey, and not the destination. With the right training, support, and encouragement, we can all achieve incredible things.”

Kilmarnock used to compete for work because their workforce was paid below the minimum wage, but Jones explains that companies are now using their services simply because his team can do certain jobs better than anyone else.“Some of our staff still earn below the minimum wage, which is often at their request so they don’t lose their allowances, but our company is committed to have everyone on the minimum wage in the very near future,” says Jones. Workbridge boss Grant Clelland says that his organisation does not want to use subsidised wages as an incentive to secure a position, but strives to have all their clients in “open employment” which means the same conditions, responsibilities and pay as their colleagues. “Probably less than one per cent of our clients have some sort of subsidy for their wages to entice their employer to take them, but all the others are employed simply because the employer wants them for their skills.”

The chief executive says New Zealand still has a long way to go and lacks an employment-focused national strategy like Australia and other countries have adopted. “We still have a welfare strategy where people think about losing benefits instead of thinking about the skills and strengths people with disabilitiescan offer the work force,” says Clelland. “Until we change that policy and mindset, with families and at Government level, we will continue to create a lifelong dependency.”

NEW BEGINNINGS

My son Logan is a 21 year old man with Down Syndrome, Autism, Dyspraxia and mild intellectual disability.

Recently on our Facebook page I posted a video of Logan in action at the Living Options café in Alexandra, Central Otago.

I would like to share our incredible journey over the last three years with you all, the highs and lows in the hope it will give others the insight, that great things can and will happen for our children and families.

February 2016 saw a rare weekend away for me without Logan and while on a ride along the Central Otago Rail Trail, I came alongside a young 18 year old woman with Down Syndrome and her support worker out for a Saturday afternoon ride. I still distinctly recall the soft toy elephant in the basket on the back of her bike, As Logan was around the same age, like all of us parents, I was keen to spend a few minutes riding and talking with them to see how other families, individuals and their parents handle life’s challenges in what for most of us is a murky, unchartered journey.

We spoke only for 5-6 minutes, but that 5-6 minutes was to majorly change our lives!

I was explaining life with Logan and my worries and fears for the future with the support worker who asked me “have you heard of Living Options here in Alexandra?”

Living Options is an organisation which came about by the vision of one woman who saw a need for families of special needs people and owing to her compassionate nature, formed the foundations of this organisation from her garage.

Living Options

Living Options in Alexandra

Living Options Charitable Trust was set up in Alexandra in 2011 to provide support services in Central Otago for people with intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities enabling them to live independently in their own community. Prior to that such people often had to leave their family and community in order to receive the services they required. In recent years Living Options has extended its services into the Queenstown/Wakatipu area. Individuals are encouraged to take control over their own lives and to have input into any major decisions affecting them. Support is flexible, focusing on the person with the family and whanau involvement.

Living Options has an activity centre in Alexandra providing recreational and educational opportunities and training in life and social skills.

Upon returning from my weekend away I embarked on researching and discovering what I could about this place. Once I established contact we travelled up for a couple of visits with Logan, who clearly was totally at ease and loved being there. Finally he was in a place where he wasn’t judged, could comfortably be himself and was accepted by all for the person he is.

Logan painting

Logan Painting

Logan working on his painting ‘New Beginnings’

 

I was desperate for Logan to have an amazing life in a warm, safe, loving environment and Living Options clearly met my vision for Logan. This is a service provider which clearly puts the emphasis, not only on the individual but also firmly on the family and the care management and staff provide is exceptional.

As we were Invercargill based, and clearly there was nothing of this calibre there and a future that was uncertain, January 2017 saw us purchase a home in Roxburgh (30 minutes south of Alexandra) which we rented while familiarisation with the area and upcoming changes were implemented for Logan.

Twelve months later I took the biggest gamble of my life, sold up everything and moved up fulltime so Logan could attend the centre during the day and work towards a permanent residential contract ultimately seeing him living as independently as possible while having full support when needed. This was a journey that was going to test us all and would either be a success or a failure, and I was extremely hesitant to leave what I already knew, however to keep everyone happy, and to give Logan the best opportunity possible, I made this move.

This was a tough period with days starting at 5.30am, commuting 42.4km into Alexandra (at times in foggy, icy, white out conditions during winter), dropping Logan off, facing a full day at work before collecting him at the end of the day and returning home. Then began the usual regime with Logan sorting him for the evening before settling for the night so I could finally sit down, usually 10pm for a breather and bed before the following day saw the same routines present themselves.

I was also struggling with issues from my own childhood in this area and working in the town and seeing landmarks everyday was impacting more on me than I thought they would. It was difficult to come in daily to a place that harboured many unpleasant memories for me.

This daily grind took a major toll on me with constant tears and breakdowns, but each time management at the centre would promptly sit me down, make phone calls, and juggle rosters just so Logan could have 3-4 nights in a house so I could have a breather. These periods were instrumental in me keeping my sanity.

The many years of living a life with a disability and daily issues ultimately took its toll on my relationship and in November 2018 my partner of 17 years and I parted ways.

This had been coming for quite some time and the only silver lining was Logan’s direction in life and the vision I had for him over the last decade particularly was coming into fruition.

Logan is now thriving in his new environment and as of March this year is now under a fulltime residential contract. He lives in a flat with two other flatmates/friends and is involved in all aspects of running a household, including chores and meal preparations with full support when needed. The interaction with his peers is amazing and his progress in a very short time astounds me.

Baking

Food prep

Food prep in the kitchen

With the help of CCS in Alexandra, and in conjunction with Living Options Logan has a supported job working with and exercising puppies in a local boarding kennels and soon will also be working watering plants in the garden section of a local retailer giving him the same things we all need in our lives, a sense of self – worth, belonging and a team member whose contributions are valued.

Thursday afternoons from 1.30 – 3.30pm Living Options run a community café open to the public with everyone involved in various roles, whether it be taking orders, plating up, being a waiter or waitress, clearing tables. It’s not uncommon for up to 70 people to come and support this incredible venture. All the food is cooked, made or baked the day prior, once again with all members of the centre being involved.

Cafe waiter

Logan enjoying being a Waiter at the Café.

Thanks to this amazing place, management and staff second to none, I now have the support I need to finally, after 21 years, get some of my life back which I will admit is exciting, but is also taking a bit of getting used to!

Sitting here writing this and reflecting I guess the point I wish to share with you all is this……

I’ve had two relationship breakups, faced alcohol issues, depression and mental health issues, I’ve had to confront the past and had an unstable work history in the quest for finding a good work/life balance. I’ve battled agencies, been knocked back numerous times, shed tears and tantrums as well as experiencing laughs, smiles, milestones and magical moments on this 21year journey. Whatever your vision, goals or desires you have for your children and their future – keep striving, keep going. You’ll have mountains to climb and dark days to face – but keep going and never give up because the destination is so worth the at times arduous journey – this I can promise you!

So if you happen to be passing through Alexandra on a Thursday between 1.30 and 3.30pm, call in, say hi and check out Café 29 at Living Options centre – You’ll be warmed by the smiles on the faces and the best damn coffee and cake in town, I’ll stake my reputation in it!

 

Logan and his Dad

Finally enjoying the rewards for the journey travelled.