People with Disability who are Thriving in the Workplace

People with Disability who are Thriving in the Workplace

What does not kill you, makes you stronger right? That certainly seems to be the case when it comes to people with disability carving successful careers in Australia.

Here are just a few examples of some extraordinary people in Australia with disability who are thriving in the work place!

  1. Dr Dinesh Palipana – Gold Coast Emergency Doctor

In 2010, on a car trip from Brisbane to the Gold Coast, Dinesh Palipana’s car spun out of control in the wet and the resulting accident left him with a spinal injury and paralysed from the chest down, as well as loss of movement in his fingers and arms.

The medical student was determined to continue his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor but he quickly realised he was facing some obstacles, none more obvious than other people’s opinions.

“There were a lot of people who told me I would never go back to medical school and doctors who said I’d never be able to do ward rounds,” Dr Palipana said. “They make judgements about your capability and that you should pretty much put away your dreams, which no one has the right to do.”

“It didn’t matter that I had good grades or that I’d been around the hospital as a student and demonstrated that I had the skills.

“I’ve even had someone [in a leadership position] say ‘we don’t really want you in this department and I don’t want you to tell anyone’.”

Dinesh didn’t let that stop him and is now a practicing doctor in Gold Coast University Hospital’s Emergency Department.  He also told his story in the recent Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

Using dictation technology to take notes and writing prescriptions digitally using his knuckles means his “notes are actually legible,” Dr Palipana joked.

“I’ve also taught myself to hold a stethoscope and examine patients with my arms.”

Dr Dinesh Palipana is a Doctor at the Gold Coast Hospital Emergency Department, despite being paralysed from the chest down due to a major car accident. (Photo Courtesy Spinal Life)

     2. Alex Lees – Light Vehicle Mechanic

Alex was involved in a major motorcycle accident that left him in a coma for two weeks and 18 injuries that required 12 separate surgeries and a long road to recovery. It also left him with one arm paralysed but he didn’t let that stop him from achieving his dream of becoming a mechanic.

With a great employer, Von Bibra at Robina, Alex was given the opportunity to continue his apprenticeship and prove himself just as capable as the other mechanics – which he has. He impressively set a new record for the most money earned by an employee and subsequently gained a coveted ‘employee of the month’ title.

Recently graduating from his Light Vehicle Mechanics Apprenticeship in 2019, Alex is working full time at Von Bibra and was recently announced the Queensland Training Awards Apprentice of the Year for SE Queensland and Equity VET Student of the Year.

As if that wasn’t enough, Alex donates his spare time talking at high schools about the impacts of high risk behaviour and he is also well known for his wicked sense of humour!

Alex Lees graduated from his apprenticeship last year, works full time at Von Bibra Robina and is now in the running for Apprentice of the Year.

3. Nas Campenalla – ABC News Reporter

Blind since she was 6 months old, due to burst blood vessels which caused her retina’s to detach, Nas grew up in a big Italian family in Western Sydney and attributes her upbringing to making her the person she is today.

“I had parents who did not wrap me up in cotton wool at all,” she laughs. “Anything that was expected of everyone else was expected of me.”

While at school and struggling to learn braille, Nas was also diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a hereditary neurological muscle condition that gave her nearly no touch sensitivity, making it almost impossible to learn braille.

However, when new aural technology was introduced Nas excelled at school and went on to study journalism at University of Technology in Sydney.

Her first post in Bega was where she met her husband, also a journalist.

“We hit it off straight away,” Campanella recalls. “He was incredibly supportive from the second I met him, and has been there for some really tough stuff. I think what’s especially great is that he has never seen my disability.

“He’s always just seen me as a person – as the journo and the silly, funny person at home who loves yoga and fashion and cooking and travelling. We talk about everything, and we laugh a lot.”

Nas went on to become a Triple J news reader, using audio tech that involved simultaneously listening to four audio streams while also producing.

Her Triple J fans were sad to hear of her departure earlier this year but she continues to work for the ABC as their disability affairs reporter.

Nas Campanella has had a successful career in journalism despite being blind from 6 months of age. (Photo Courtesy Mitch Lui).

These amazing Australians are a just a few examples of the many people with disability having successful careers despite the multitude of barriers faced by them.

With more Australian work places focusing on accessibility, it may be time to ask – is your workplace is accessible?

Michelle Dowding

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