Nathan’s story: finding meaningful employment

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They say if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. For 31 year old Nathan, that saying couldn’t ring truer.

Adjusting to a sudden disability can present many challenges, but through his employment at a garden nursery, Nathan has blossomed into a valuable employee.

After falling from a two-storey building as a plumber’s apprentice 15 years ago and spending a period of time recovering in hospital, Nathan decided to turn his passion for horticulture into meaningful employment.

As a result of his accident Nathan has an acquired brain injury and is non-verbal, however, he uses assistive technology in the form of a text-to-speech device to help him communicate.

Nathan’s boss, Paul Hyland, owner of Glasshaus Nursery in Richmond, Victoria, says there are a number of reasons why Nathan makes a great employee.

“I can see that Nathan gets a lot of benefit from being in a beautiful environment and dealing with nature as all of us that work here do, that’s one of the reasons we do it,” Mr Hyland says.

“It helps that he’s got an infectious personality and he happens to barrack for the same footy team as I do, so it all works out well.

“He comes in to pot plants and we have a bit of a joke about the footy.”

Nathan lives at Villa Maria Catholic Homes’ (VMCH) Austin Street, Victoria’s first purpose-built residence for 10 young people with an acquired brain injury who may otherwise live in nursing homes.

For Nathan, the journey to his employment with Glasshaus started when Austin Street staff and other supporters fundraised more than $20,000 to support him. This money meant he was able to purchase a standing wheelchair that would allow him to stand up to work in his garden, sell his plants at local markets and interact with customers face-to-face when talking to them.

A VMCH support worker accompanies Nathan to his shifts, which usually last for two hours.

Austin Street Manager, Jo Herbert, says Nathan missed the comradeship of a team environment but is now thriving within his workplace.

“One of the things he missed was the mateship with his co-workers. So he loves that now,” she says.

“The people at Glasshaus are great and of course, a little extra money is always good.”

Approximately 50 percent of people with a disability are employed, compared to 83 percent of the general population, but thanks to Nathan’s can-do attitude, he has been able to find meaningful employment he enjoys.

Paul is encouraging other employers to make their workplaces more inclusive.

“We enjoy having him around and I’m glad that he enjoys it too,” he says.

“It’s really good for staff members here as well.

“When you see somebody who has had an accident like Nathan’s had and they can still have such a positive outlook on life, it’s pretty inspirational.”

Nathan loves living at his supported accommodation at Austin Street and has been able to decorate his room with his favourite sporting memorabilia and set up his computer and TV.

Austin Street Rehabilitation and Therapy Assistant, Dermot Sheehy says Nathan is a much-loved resident at VMCH.

“Nathan gets on great with all of the people who live and work at Austin Street. He’s an easy going, funny guy that everyone likes hanging out with,” he says.

His VMCH support team worked closely with Nathan to help him set up his own business and he now has a market stall at St Andrews Community Market selling the succulents he grows and pots at home.

“Nathan is one of the busiest people at Austin street and that’s how he likes it. He’s always keen to be involved with activities and go to new places,” Dermot says.
“He’s a very positive guy.”

In his spare time, Nathan enjoys fishing, swimming and going to the gym.

Flourishing into a valued and well-respected employee and resident at VMCH Austin Street, Nathan is making the most of life and embracing his green thumb.

What have your experiences been working with a disability? Tell us in the comment section below. 

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