Mon 05, Dec 2022 , Bridge Magazine
Jaydan is 25 years old, lives with cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair for most of his life. For the last three years he has worked voluntarily for the Children’s Hospital Foundation, on site at the Queensland Children’s Hospital where he helps people with directions and provides information on the services and support provided by the Foundation for sick children and their families. In this environment, Jaydan estimates that approximately 50 to 60 per cent of people have a mobility issue, so he feels like he blends in. “In my three years of volunteering, hardly ever has anyone asked me why I’m in a wheelchair,” he says.
It's a different story in his work as a ‘customer greeter’ for a major Australian department store. Jaydan works two to three nights per week plus a weekend shift and estimates that he is on the receiving end of questions about his disability on average about three to four times per shift. While his role is to direct customers and answer any questions related to shopping in store, he is understandably annoyed that people think it is okay to ask him personal questions. “People can be so patronising,” says Jaydan. “If they’re not asking me why I’m in a wheelchair, they pat me on the shoulder and say ‘look at you, it’s great to see you out and about. You’re doing such a good job!’”
Jaydan says his reaction to this depends entirely on the person and the manner in which they address him. Whilst his position at the front of the store can be a vulnerable one and at times, he has felt fearful, he also has a good sense of humour and the larrikin in him can give just as good as he gets. “Sometimes I say I didn’t eat my vegies and that’s why I’m in a wheelchair,” he says with a cheeky smile. “It gets a great response, especially if there are children around!”
Like many people with a disability, Jaydan finds self-toileting when out and about can be challenging. Preferring to maintain his independence and security, he chooses to wear a pull up when out and would rather urinate in this way than holding on which can cause him great discomfort. His workplace provides a disabled access bathroom, but he says in terms of time and convenience the situation could be better improved. “At the moment, I have to go to a special locker, take out a handheld urinal, go to the bathroom and use it, then clean it, put it away and wash my hands. This can take me up to ten minutes. I’m hoping to soon have a portable urinal available for use in a locked cupboard in the disabled bathroom to save time.”
Recently, Jaydan has been experiencing digestive issues which can lead to bowel incontinence with very little warning. “About four months ago, I was doing the last three-hour shift of the night. About an hour into the shift, my stomach ‘dropped’ and before I knew it, I had soiled myself,” said Jaydan. Fortunately, the manager on with him that night was very kind and understanding. “I said to him quite literally, I’ve just sh*t myself. I need to go home and clean up,” says Jaydan. “I offered to come back and finish my shift, but he said just go home and look after yourself. I was so afraid of smelling and people noticing, but he made it seamless for me to just leave discreetly.”
Whilst he is not entirely sure what is causing his recent digestive issues one solution is to get a standing frame to increase his movement and ability to stretch as constantly sitting is not good for his digestive organs or his other muscles. This has been approved by the NDIS but needs to be custom made and measured to suit Jaydan’s specific needs, a matter of finding the right manufacturer, which takes time.
Jaydan believes that making provisions for assisted technology in the workplace could greatly enhance the employability and prospects for disabled people. “Being someone with a disability often feels like being put into the ‘too hard basket’,” he says. “I have qualified for a Certificate III in Health Administration and have applied for a couple of jobs, but my disability has been a stumbling block. I struggle to use the fingers of my right hand independently, but I can still type with one hand. This might make me a bit slower, but I can still get the work done. More needs to be done to accommodate people with disabilities to help them find fulfilling employment.”
Jaydan has used his voice as a spokesperson and youth member for the YMCA Queensland Youth Parliament, a program for those aged 15-25 to learn more about parliamentary debate, Bill writing, and working with the media. Jaydan was a valued contributor and representative for the Health, Emergency Services, Disability and Seniors portfolio in 2021. He hopes to become a part of the executive team in the near future and would like to see more people with physical disabilities involved as representatives in running the program.
In the meantime, he continues to volunteer for the Children’s Hospital Foundation, which he is passionate about. “As a kid, I was in and out of hospital all the time and I really feel for children in that situation. If I can do something so slight to make someone’s day better, then I’m happy,” he says.