Taking a weight off Michael’s mind and shoulders

Business owner Michael Papalardo

As a landscaper and property services provider, Michael enjoys the creativity that comes with the job.

“Apart from landscaping, I support my clients with property maintenance, house repairs, garden maintenance and much more. It’s an all-round service,” he adds.

Being self-employed and running his own business – MP Property Services – also means having long days of outdoor physical work.

These include a wide range of tasks, such as manual labour, machinery operations, chemical handling, maintaining gardens, mowing lawns, landscaping and interacting with clients and colleagues, to name a few.

Michael has multiple sclerosis (MS), which means he faces challenges in carrying out some aspects of his job.

Some symptoms impacting Michael’s ability to perform his tasks include fatigue, muscle weakness, reduced balance, heat sensitivity and pain.

Working outdoors means certain environmental conditions heighten Michael’s symptoms, especially during summer, thereby causing fatigue and making it difficult for him to carry out his job safely.

Standard landscaping equipment, including workwear, can be heavy to carry and operate. “Lots of my tools were heavy, which left me physically and mentally drained,” explains Michael.

A few years ago, Michael learnt about JobAccess through his MS Employment Support Service team. Michael adds, “They saw I was exhausted and asked ‘what can we do to help?’”

He went on to apply for the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) through the JobAccess website. 

What is the Employment Assistance Fund?

The Australian Government’s Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) provides financial assistance to purchase work-related modifications and services with the intent to remove barriers in the workplace due to a person’s disability.

People with disability who are starting work, already employed or self-employed, or their employer, can apply for the EAF. If a person is working with a DES provider, the provider can support the participant and employer with lodging the EAF application.

It wasn’t long after receiving Michael’s application that JobAccess organised a free worksite assessment.

As part of the EAF process, a qualified assessor with specialised knowledge about MS conducted a worksite assessment. An assessor visited Michael at his workplace to identify potential barriers caused by his MS symptoms and discussed solutions to help make work more accessible.

With recommendations from the assessor, JobAccess Professional Adviser, Tania Hillan, worked alongside Michael to organise funding for assistive equipment and workwear to help manage his symptoms while carrying out his job. 

“They were all fantastic to work with as they considered everything. The JobAccess team was quick with the process and understood why these (recommended supports) were needed,” shares Michael.

The supports included a high-vis signal cooling vest, which looks like a regular high-vis vest and can be worn without others in the workplace or clients knowing its purpose. The assessor also recommended cooling bands and a cooling base cap to help decrease the impact heat was having on Michael’s symptoms.

To reduce the amount of energy required for Michael to walk around his workplace, the EAF funded lightweight boots that were 25% lighter than a standard pair of work boots, along with a lightweight backpack blower and brush cutter. These supports combined helped reduce fatigue and remove the stress and anxiety of carrying heavy equipment for Michael.

“They (the supports) have dramatically taken the load off my body! The lightweight boots alone have reduced 3kgs off my feet. It’s hard for people to realise how exhausted one can get with this condition,” says Michael. “Going into work, I would always stress that ‘I have to lift this machine again’. With these supports, I feel less anxious about carrying and operating heavy equipment.”

He adds, “The tools JobAccess funded have reduced my stress, both physically and mentally. Having access to this service has been a fantastic experience, giving me support, advice and guidance.”

Michael now supports other people who may experience MS by undertaking simple repair or landscaping tasks at their homes or assisted living accommodations. 

Many people think they are alone and don’t realise what support they can receive to make their workday easier.

Once they know help is available, it makes a lot of difference. Like JobAccess, there is help to keep you employed,” concludes Michael.

JobAccess has managed over 50,000 applications for workplace adjustments since 2006. Each one makes a difference by helping people with disability get work, keep work and be more productive. 

Contact JobAccess on 1800 464 800 to speak to our friendly and resourceful Advisers about workplace adjustments and the Employment Assistance Fund. You can also submit an online enquiry through the JobAccess website.

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