JobAccess support gives Michael the independence to flourish in his career

Michael sits facing the camera and is smiling. He is wearing a dark suit jacket.

Image: Michael sits facing the camera and is smiling. He is wearing a dark suit jacket.

Michael has been living with a spinal cord injury since 2010, following a surfing accident. An employee of Uniting for 15 years, Michael is about to get a car that, as he describes, will change his life.

A surfing accident leaves Michael with a spinal injury

As a result of the accident in 2010, Michael acquired quadriplegia and uses a wheelchair. It has been a long journey for Michael. “I went from a participant to a spectator, which hasn’t been easy,” he shared.

Michael is incredibly passionate about his work as Manager Environment and Sustainability for Uniting. Uniting provides services in aged care, disability, community, early learning, education and training, throughout NSW and the ACT.

Michael’s job of 15 years involves a broad range of environment and sustainability matters including energy efficiency projects, nature conservation including bush regeneration for Uniting’s properties and carbon reduction projects such as sourcing electric vehicles for the company’s car fleet and strategies around waste management.

Recently, Michael has been going out to sites and talking to independent living residents about sustainability and environment, and has been organising solar panels for various Uniting sites. Being able to travel to various sites is very important for Michael, to complete his job and to be successful in his job. Michael is also a solicitor and helps with Uniting’s legal matters.

Fortunately, most of Uniting sites are accessible, which really helped Michael in his return to work. Michael describes Uniting as a leading employer for people with disability, and that they have always been supportive and flexible. "They are very inclusive, it is part of their DNA,” shared Michael.

Life is good, just different.
– Michael Mathias, Manager Environment Sustainability

Michael is also a husband, and a dad to six adult children. He enjoys watching his kids play sport, spending time with his family and getting out into nature using his four-wheel drive wheelchair.

Michael keeps very busy, volunteering for Forward Ability Support’s board, and is a member of a local council committee for bushland conservation. When describing life since his spinal cord injury, Michael shared, “life is good, just different.”

Michael faced challenges completing a core part of his job

A typical day for Michael involves travelling from West Pymble in Sydney’s north to Town Hall Station in the CBD and getting out to sites. To date, he has mostly relied on public transport or taxis to travel to work, and to visit Uniting sites.

“Uniting has 80 aged care facilities in NSW, on a typical day I might be visiting a new site regarding its construction, or an operational aged care facility around environmental sustainability initiatives,” shared Michael.

Michael cannot drive a standard vehicle, and currently loses a lot of time when travelling. The nearest bus stop is 1.5km from his home. Using public transport and taxis doubles Michael’s travel time, compared to the time required if Michael had his own transport.

Michael also finds it challenging commuting with various weather situations. With a spinal injury, regulating body temperature can be a challenge. “Waiting at bus stops or train stations can be difficult, I can get very cold and very hot very quickly,” shared Michael.

“Part of the public transport issue, post COVID, is that many taxi drivers who can take people with disability handed their licenses back in, so there is a big shortage of taxis with wheelchair access. It can take up to an hour and a half for a booking to come. It’s horrific,” said Michael.

The biggest challenge Michael has faced with his spinal injury and his job is that he has only been able to visit sites around the Sydney metropolitan area. This limited ability to attend sites means it is very difficult for Michael to oversee and manage projects.

Over a decade after JobAccess first supported Michael, the service supports Michael to modify a van

Michael found out about JobAccess in 2010, following his surfing accident. Michael’s social worker at the time suggested Michael reach out to the service.

JobAccess supported Michael with a desk and a laptop as workplace adjustments through the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF), so that he could return to work (from home). This helped Michael to focus on his recovery, and to adjust to his ‘new norm’.

Today, Michael is in the same job with Uniting, but now his job is growing rapidly and requires him to get out on site more, at least one to two days per week.

Thirteen years later, JobAccess is supporting Michael again, this time with modifications to a Volkswagen Transporter van. This allows Michael to drive his wheelchair straight into the driver’s position of the van. Michael has not had a car, and the freedom that comes with it, since his surfing accident.

This car will enable me to do my job much better. It will be life-changing.
– Michael Mathias, Manager Environment Sustainability

This car will enable Michael to get out onto sites and to complete his job better, without relying on public transport. Next year Michael will be visiting 25+ sites to oversee the installation of solar panels and other environmental projects.

With the help of his new car, Michael will be present and able to ensure a successful implementation face to face, rather than via video calls and over email. “This car will enable me to do my job much better,” shared Michael. “It will be life-changing. It will be such a change of lifestyle for me.”

Michael appreciates the optimism and support from his JobAccess Professional Advisor, and is positive about the future  

Michael worked with JobAccess Professional Adviser Emma Tutty and describes the overall process with JobAcces as great. “Emma was great, she worked really, really well to get the information she needed to get the modifications over the line. Emma was also very optimistic, supportive and positive about the whole thing,” shared Michael.

This car will make me a lot more independent.
– Michael Mathias, Manager Environment Sustainability

This car opens up opportunities for Michael, enabling him to get to places he couldn’t get to without public transport. Michael also looks forward to being able to drive others around, after being driven around for 13 years. “This car will make me a lot more independent. I cherish independence,” shared Michael.

Michael’s vehicle is expected to arrive early 2024, and we look forward to seeing how Michael’s new wheels support him to do his job; continuing his important work whilst continuing to grow in his role with Uniting.

JobAccess is the go-to expert for disability employment, removing barriers to sustainable employment for people with disability. It is a free, one-stop national service that provides expert advice for all stages of disability recruitment and employment. For free, expert and tailored support, reach out to JobAccess on 1800 464 800 or visit our website.

Related pages

Employment Assistance Fund

Available support for people with disability

Talking to others about your disability

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