Disrupting the status quo: why we need to embrace disability employment

Sam Flood, Registered Pharmacist, Capital Chemist Coburg North

Sam Flood was born with a rare condition called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, impacting the development of his muscles from an early age. The range of movement in Sam’s arms was most affected, while his legs were operated on numerous times to ensure that he could stand and walk short distances when required.

For the most part Sam now uses a motorised wheelchair, which has impacted his life in a multitude of ways - some positive, and some in ways he never imagined…

“I love my job - it’s very rewarding to be in a position where I can build relationships with regular customers and work towards long term solutions for them. But there were definitely some challenges that I had to overcome to get here!” says Sam.

Sam graduated from the University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Pharmacy in December of 2016. The next step in his career path was a pharmacy internship - and with respectable grades, Sam didn’t think twice about his first few applications going unanswered.

After a year, Sam still hadn’t found an internship. Feeling frustrated, he moved to Hobart in search of work that he could add to his resume which would make his credentials even harder to turn down. Sam felt that his disability was playing a key role in his difficulty finding an internship, and believed this extra work might ‘compensate for it’.

During his time in Hobart, Sam was invited to share his experience through a video interview with University Specialist Employment Partnerships (USEP). The clip went viral, and once pharmacies caught wind of Sam’s story, internship offers finally started to land.

“While it was an exciting time, it was also an important lesson in understanding that not everyone pulls through in their offer to help. While there were some genuine offers, I had to deal with a couple of false promises that fell through,” Sam explains.

Sam ended up accepting an internship offer from Capital Chemist, Coburg North, and made the move to Melbourne. More than a year later, he is now one of their registered pharmacists.

Sam says a common theme throughout his day is problem solving, be it through dispensing and explaining medicine, or providing practical advice to customers.

“I’m lucky in that I enjoy what I do, and I am also surrounded by a supportive team,” he says.

“My manager in particular has been great. When I first moved to Melbourne I was juggling a lot of priorities, and he was very flexible and understanding of my needs. I think this is especially important in a smaller team.”

There are also a range of benefits for companies that hire people with disability - it’s just a case of knowing where to start. For example, businesses might need to make some physical adjustments.

Sam’s pharmacy has built a ramp alongside the two steps leading into the dispensary, along with a handrail down the side. This means Sam can walk up to the back if it’s for a simple task, or use the ramp on his wheelchair should he need to be in the dispensary for a longer period of time.

The majority of counters are designed for standing work, so Sam has access to a tall bar stool that he can sit on should he be in one place for a few hours.

Workplace adjustments can be made through JobAccess and the Employment Assistance Fund, which provide financial assistance to people with disability and their employers to make work-related modifications.

“We tend to forget that an individual who lives with disability has spent their whole life adapting. With this comes an inherent nature of innovation and lateral thinking that any workplace can benefit from,” Sam explains.

“Workplaces tend to say they've always done things a certain way, and disability employment can bring the new and fresh perspective that a stale situation needs,” he said.

Find out more about how the Employment Assistance Fund can be used for workplace adjustments and equipment.

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