Enabling Donna to support her community

Donna Surtees (Source: Hunter Community Hub)

Donna Surtees (Source: Hunter Community Hub)

Donna values helping people. Her passion for removing barriers and assisting people with disability into meaningful work sees Donna impact change at the grassroots level.

In her previous role as a ‘Linker’ with a not-for-profit organisation, she engaged with local community stakeholders to make employment processes more inclusive and enable social and economic opportunities for people with disability.

“My focus was on people seeking to be self-employed but didn’t know how to go about it. I helped them analyse what they are good at, why they are good at it and the supports that are in place to help them get there,” Donna says.

She shares an example of securing a work placement opportunity for a candidate on the autism spectrum. “The outcome was wonderful! The person went on to signing their own clients to their new business and also received paid employment with another service to broaden their capabilities,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s about identifying barriers that the environment may impose and getting around them.

” As part of the role, Donna also worked closely with employers on diversity and inclusion policy and undertook community development projects in the City of Lake Macquarie. “I worked on venue accessibility and assisting services to improve equitable access for people with disability within the community.”

Having a lived experience with multiple auto-immunity disorder, Donna understands first-hand the challenges involved in navigating her environment and managing work expectations.

“The condition impacts my body temperature, resulting in fatigue and lowering my pain threshold. I was unable to go out and do my job on warmer days because of heat exhaustion,” Donna explains.

“Lake Macquarie is a huge area. Having to visit people in their homes or the community was challenging. Moving around bigger spaces, such as the community centre or shopping mall, was also exhausting and would fatigue me. From time to time, I would forget what to do next because of the exhaustion, and this reduced my capacity to work.”

The condition also has other impacts. Donna experiences dryness in her eyes and blurry vision, causing her eyes to fatigue and affecting her ability to read text on the computer. She also experiences arthritis that has made typing painful and reduced her speed from 80 words to 35 words per minute.

“It affects every aspect of your life,” Donna explains. “You don’t want to call people you work with to cancel your shift. You try and do the things in the best way you can.”

During a performance management discussion, Donna’s team leader told her about JobAccess and the Employment Assistance Fund. “Initially, I hesitated, but when I read the process on the website, it didn’t seem difficult. I completed the online form in about 12 minutes and was contacted by one of the JobAccess Advisers really fast.”

JobAccess organised an assessor to visit Donna’s workplace to conduct a free worksite assessment and recommend simple modifications. “The assessor met my team leader and me to identify solutions. We discussed everything from sourcing assistive technology to flexible work arrangements with a slight change in my job hours,” Donna says.

Some of the modifications included a 27-inch desktop monitor combined with headsets and an intuitive read & write software to help read text aloud, helping minimise the impact of visual fatigue. The recommendations also included a light-weight, ergonomic wireless keyboard to assist Donna with typing.

One of the supports came in the form of a cooling vest. “It’s life-changing! It regulates my body temperature and keeps me cool during summer.” JobAccess also organised a scooter to help Donna navigate bigger spaces with ease and funded the installation of a ramp to assist with getting in and out of her vehicle.

“The JobAccess Adviser I worked with was compassionate and simply wonderful! She cut through the challenges and made it one of the easiest processes I’ve ever experienced.”

“No one has helped me with my condition as much as JobAccess and the Employment Assistance Fund has done, and it’s incredible how the program has helped me maintain my employment,” Donna concludes.

Donna now runs her own business, Hunter Community Hub, working in a social enterprise providing services for people with a disability under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

JobAccess works with a national panel of assessors to conduct free workplace assessments and advice on workplace modifications & support. Such modifications may be eligible for reimbursement through the Australian Government’s Employment Assistance Fund (EAF). You can contact a JobAccess Adviser on 1800 464 800 to help you with applying for EAF assistance.

About JobAccess

Funded by the Australian Government, JobAccess is the multi award-winning national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers.

Recognised internationally for its innovative approach to disability employment, JobAccess brings together a wide range of resources including a website, dedicated advice service, the Employment Assistance Fund for workplace modifications and training, and the Employer Engagement team (NDRC) providing free and practical support to employers to become disability confident.

For more information, visit www.jobaccess.gov.au or call 1800 464 800 to speak with a JobAccess Adviser.

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