Moving forward after a life-changing injury

WHEN Patrick’s customers give feedback about his service, they often praise his empathy and passion for the job.

The telco salesperson takes great pride in knowing everything about the products and services his company provides and meeting the needs of every phone, NBN and air conditioning system customer he speaks to.

Impressed by his dedication to the work, Patrick’s customers have no idea he is doing everything from a modified workstation with voice-activated software while sitting in an electric wheelchair.

They also don’t know how valuable and life-changing a job is for Patrick.

“It’s given me a lot more independence. Just going to work I feel like I’m participating in the community and doing what I need to do. It’s changed a lot in my personality and my life” he said.

"It’s changed a lot in my personality and my life"   

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The day everything change

Previously a business owner in the mining industry, Patrick, 43, said he had never had to search for work until after he became a quadriplegic and lost all function in his body from his neck down.

It has been 13 years since he broke his neck falling from a rope swing into a river during a hot summer’s day off work with mates.

“I drowned at the scene. I was clinically dead a few times,” he said.

“I was in ICU [Intensive Care Unit] for probably three months and in hospital for two years. When I first had my accident all I could do was wink my eye.

“I couldn’t talk and had to learn everything back again.”

The inspiration to keep going

It was during his recovery in hospital he found the drive to move forward and keep going. The sensation of his first shower months after being pulled from the river was a significant moment.

“Because you’re bandaged up, you’re so hot and all you can think about is being nice and cool. The water was just exhilarating,” he said.

But it was the day he couldn’t use the special shower trolley that had the biggest impact during his hospital recovery.

Only able to communicate through facial expressions, Patrick’s nurse saw how upset he was when she said he couldn’t have a shower that day, so she put him in a wheelchair and took him to see why they were unable to use the special equipment.

It was then he saw another patient - a teenage girl whose injuries were so bad she had spent the last five years living in the ICU.

“That was a reality check for me,” he said.

“That was a really severe accident. For me it’s bad… but it’s not that bad. I’ve still got my brain.

“I used her as my inspiration to move forward,” he said.

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"Sometimes people see what’s just in front of their eyes and they don’t really see what a person can do"

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Making life work again

After he learned to talk again and take greater control of his life by operating technology and tools through the use of his head, Patrick soon felt the need to keep moving forward. He studied for several years but it wasn’t enough.

The former business owner, who had always worked and had never needed to write a resume, wanted to get back to work.

It wasn’t easy becoming eligible for employment services programs with a permanent disability, but after a year of letters and determination, Patrick was deemed eligible for the government-funded Disability Employment Services program provided by APM.

“It was very weird to come back after so many years, especially with a disability,” he said.

“I didn’t know about applying for jobs anymore and I don’t remember ever having to write a resume. APM deals with this every day so it was good to get the ins and outs.

“When I was offered a job, I spoke to APM about what can we do – can we get equipment or other stuff - because I didn’t know how it was going to work.

“They looked up all the work modifications and how to get them done.”

A new job and a new purpose

Patrick was able to have a specially modified workstation and voice-activated software to allow him to join the workforce.

“Sometimes I go into the city and sometimes I work from home. There was some ironing out of technical difficulties, but it worked in the long run,” he said.

Ahead of this year’s International Day of People with Disability, dedicated employee Patrick said having a job transformed his life and he urges employers to go beyond what they see to reap the benefits of hiring people with disability.

“Sometimes people see what’s just in front of their eyes and they don’t really see what a person can do,” he said.

“It’s not only boosting the morale and the independence of the person with a disability, but there’s so much on offer from the employment service providers like APM, like the funding for workplace modifications and wage subsidies.”

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