Right on track: National coach and Paralympian describes new wheelchair through JobAccess as game changing

Louise Sauvage is smiling at work, while coaching a person with their back to the camera.

Paralympian and now NSW Institute of Sport National Coach, Louise Sauvage, is set to receive a custom-built wheelchair in the coming months. This game changing support will help Louise in her role coaching and mentoring athletes.

Louise’s work and recognition on and off the track

Louise was born with a congenital spinal condition. At the age of 18, Louise competed in her first Paralympic Games in Barcelona. Since then, she went on to compete at various Paralympic Games between 1992 and 2004. She has won nine gold and four silver medals. Amongst many other achievements, Louise also received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1993.

Following a huge sporting career competing in wheelchair racing, Louise retired from competing internationally after the Athens Paralympics in 2004. That’s when she began her role of coaching athletes. At this time, Louise also started ‘Aspire to be a Champion’, a foundation supporting athletes with disability.

Fast forward to 2023, National Coach Louise supports and coaches athletes in Wheelchair Track and Road, working with the NSW Institute of Sport. Louise’s work involves coaching and preparing athletes who are going to compete at the Paralympics, or at other world champion events.

Environmental barriers for Louise at work

If Louise isn’t on the road with her team, a typical day would involve going to Sydney Olympic Park to coach two podium athletes, writing programs for athletes, and providing one-on-one coaching. Louise also volunteers, trains and coaches people with disability in wheelchair track and road. 

Her work involves a lot of travel, depending on where the athletes need her. Sometimes she travels interstate, and other times she goes abroad. On average, she undertakes about four international trips each year.

However, Louise faces difficulties because of environmental barriers. When she travels by air for work, her wheelchair has to be stored in the plane’s cargo hold instead of being with her in the overhead lockers. This can be inconvenient and stressful for her.

Another challenge is that Louise often can’t travel in the same vehicle as her colleagues. Her current wheelchair doesn’t fit well in small cars, so she has to find alternative transportation. This situation causes her anxiety, especially when flying, because she doesn’t have her wheelchair with her on the plane. Sometimes, after flying, her wheelchair comes back damaged or gets lost during transit, which creates additional challenges for Louise.

“I have difficulties with work travel with my normal wheelchair. A portable and foldable chair would give me more freedom and less anxiety.“

– Louise Sauvage.

Louise needed a smaller wheelchair that was better for travelling. She needed one that she could have with her all the time and use when travelling with her colleagues in the same vehicle. 

“I had difficulties with work travel with my normal wheelchair. A portable and foldable chair would give me more freedom and less anxiety, and it could fit into a smaller vehicle so I can travel with my team,” shared Louise.

Louise got in touch with JobAccess through a NDIS provider. They suggested she apply for the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF). The EAF gives financial help to eligible people living with disability and mental health conditions, as well as employers. It helps them buy work-related modifications, equipment, Auslan services and workplace assistance and support services.

An Occupational Therapist, arranged by JobAccess, assessed Louise’s work environment, including her travel schedule and her current wheelchair. Based on this assessment, they recommended a custom-built, lightweight, portable, and foldable wheelchair, which was approved for Louise.

“This wheelchair is a game changer.“

– Louise Sauvage.

Louise is set to receive her custom-built wheelchair in the coming months. She is looking forward to the greater freedom and reduced anxiety it will bring, along with the additional benefits like no flat tyres. “This wheelchair is a game changer. It will give me greater freedom and reduced anxiety when I travel for work,” said Louise.

Louise finds her job incredibly rewarding

Louise describes her role as National Coach as a privilege. She gets to be part of an athlete’s journey and help them reach their goals. Louise uses her own experience as a professional athlete and Paralympian to bring a different perspective to coaching.

She has been in the shoes of the athletes she is coaching and understands the highs and lows of being a professional athlete. “They don’t have to explain what they are feeling as I understand, I have been there,” she said.

When asked the best part about her job, “helping people to achieve their goals is so rewarding,” Louise shared.

Louise’s experience with JobAccess and her message to other people living with disability

Louise found JobAccess to be supportive and the overall process to be very quick. Louise found JobAccess Professional Adviser Emma Tutty to be really easy to work with and talk with, and very supportive, guiding Louise through the process.

“Emma and the JobAccess team really took the time to listen. My experience was phenomenal!“

– Louise Sauvage.

Louise also describes her experience working with JobAccess as phenomenal. “The process was a lot quicker than I thought. Getting approval for the chair was fantastic. Emma and the team really took the time to listen. My experience was phenomenal!” shared Louise.

“A little change can make a big difference for people with disability to be able to work, and to be a vital part of the community.“

– Louise Sauvage.

Louise encourages employers and people living with disability to apply for support from JobAccess. “A little change can make a big difference for people with disability to be able to work, and to be a vital part of the community. There is so much opportunity out there,” concludes Louise.

Are you looking for advice and support with workplace adjustments? Contact JobAccess

JobAccess is the go-to expert for disability employment matters. It helps removes barriers to sustainable employment for people with disability.

JobAccess has a team of allied health professionals who provide expert, confidential and tailored advice on workplace adjustments from the first point of contact.

For tailored and confidential support, reach out to JobAccess on 1800 464 800 or submit an online enquiry.

Related pages

Employment Assistance Fund

Available support for people with disability

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