Ebony supports others living with a disability through her lived experience

21-year-old Ebony describes herself as bright, bubbly, and always up for a chat  – but that hasn’t always been the case.

Living with cerebral palsy – and a compromised immune system – while experiencing anxiety and depression for most of her adulthood, Ebony’s need for regular social interactions were vital in keeping her spirits high. Although two years in and out of lockdown caused Ebony to feel isolated and alone.

Committed to finding employment that could cater to her disability, Ebony joined WISE Employment’s School Leavers Employment Supports (SLES) program in 2019, embarking on a quest to regain her autonomy and find employment after finishing school.

When Ebony approached WISE, the COVID-19 pandemic was still prominent across the country and she found many doors were closed when seeking employment opportunities.

Ebony was paired with case worker Lily, working one-on-one to combat personal insecurities surrounding her disability in order to find an employer who understood her needs and capabilities.

“Ebony came to WISE with such determination in finding the right role. A beaming smile and incredible interpersonal skills, she has a way of making you feel so comfortable and is never short of conversation.”

“We quickly discovered working directly with people was right up her alley, narrowing our focus to seeking admin and customer service roles to play to her strengths,” says Lily.

Using the time spent in lockdown perfecting her resume and learning how to answer interview questions, Ebony was ready to hit the ground running when lockdown restrictions eased.

“I never used to describe myself as a confident person, but Lily showed me how to not shy away from my disability, and that even though I’m in a wheelchair, I’m still more than capable of doing the things I want to do,” says Ebony.

Once the Melbourne lockdown was lifted, Ebony and Lily got to work, and reached out to disability support service Permalink for an interview.

“Ebony was concerned her typing skills may not be up to scratch for an admin role, and part of my job as her case worker was reminding her that admin is much more than typing. Customer service and being client-facing is where she really shines,” says Lily.

Lily attended the interview at Permalink with her mother for support, meeting her soon-to-be manager Justyn.

Conversational in tone, Justyn provided a safe space for Ebony to ask as many questions as possible, reiterating to her that an interview should be as much about her getting to know him as it is for him to get to know her.

“Justyn and I clicked almost immediately and the interview ran very smoothly. He finished our meeting by saying ‘if you’re happy to join us, we’d love to have you on board’. He made me feel comforted and assured that he’d cater to any needs I had in terms of work frequency and my capabilities,” says Ebony.

With previous experience volunteering at Wallara, a local Dandenong disability support service, coupled with her new role at Permalink, Ebony grew passionate about advocating for those living with physical and intellectual disabilities, understanding first-hand the complexities that come with it.

“Ebony is an incredibly intuitive and charismatic person, who is a committed disability advocate. She shows great determination in making the world a better place for those living with a disability, creating Facebook groups for like-minded people and notifying businesses that don’t have wheelchair accessibility or ramps in the right places,” says Lily.

Having now been at Permalink for six months, Ebony is thriving in her admin support role. Justyn and Ebony have worked together to create an environment that is sustainable – frequently negotiating working hours and tasks that are dependent on Ebony’s condition.

“Getting this job has given me a newfound perspective and independence that I didn’t know I needed. My bosses are incredibly supportive, my teammates are amazing and the work itself is so rewarding.”

“Now that I have this role, I’m ready to take on other volunteer opportunities in community work, because I’ve been shown I have so much potential and I’m capable of doing more. I can’t thank Lily enough for her constant support, I wouldn’t be where I am today without her,” says Ebony.

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