Hastings man Hamish Gilbert has a lot to offer employers, but he has found that the number of places of work willing to accept a worker with a disability is low.
Hamish, 21, has Down syndrome and was employed at Splash Planet as a park host and assistant maintenance worker until it was closed early this year.
All his life, he has fought against the perception that he is not as capable or cannot provide a valuable contribution because of his disability.
March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day, and Hamish is searching for a job, but he wants employers to understand his story and engage with him - just like they would for anyone else.
His mother, Stephanie Gilbert, said society was still largely operating on outdated models when it came to people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are no different from anyone else … they need a sense of purpose, an opportunity to contribute to society, just like everybody else,” she said.
She said recently Hamish had attempted to help with cyclone recovery tasks but had been rejected.
She said Hamish was left wondering why he was not able to help, but when he was finally able to volunteer at the Hastings Racecourse, he was back to smiling again thanks to the sense of belonging and the feeling of being valued it provided.
“I know my son has the attributes of a good employee – he is motivated and reliable, cheerful and helpful, loyal and wanting to learn,” she said.
“If only others would believe in what could be possible, like the co-ordinator at Mahi for Youth and the manager at Splash Planet had done, and give people like my son an opportunity.”
The New Zealand Down Syndrome Association (NZDSA) said the theme for World Down Syndrome Day 2023 was ‘with us not for us’.
NZDSA said Down Syndrome International defines the theme as “a human rights-based approach that views people with disabilities as having the right to be treated fairly and have the same opportunities as everyone else, working with others to improve their lives”.
The Office for Disability Issues posted excerpts from Stats NZ data which showed positive signs that there was a downward trend in the proportion of young people with disabilities and not in employment, education, or training, from 49 per cent to 32 per cent between June 2020 and 2022.
However, the overall gap in unemployment rates remained, with 7.9 per cent for people with disabilities compared to 3.3 per cent for people without disabilities between 15 and 64 years of age.
The median weekly income from all sources is $451 for people with disabilities compared to $1000 for people without disabilities.
In Hamish’s own words:
“My name is Hamish and I happen to have Down syndrome, but that does not define who I am.
I want what everybody else wants – a sense of purpose, to be valued, a sense of belonging. This means having a job, a safe place to live, friends to do things with and access to recreation facilities.
Unfortunately, I am often denied/excluded from things because of outdated thinking about people with disabilities.
I have had to put up with people assuming I can’t do things, without giving me the opportunity to show what I can do.
My family had to battle for my inclusion in the mainstream of my school; pushing for opportunities to show what I could do.
I wanted to be like my brother and attend classes without a teacher aide velcroed to me. I wanted to work with other students, not sit at the back with a teacher aide. I wanted NCEA credits just like my peers – that was the currency.
I remember being so proud when I achieved my first credits and I was motivated to go all the way. I wanted to show that despite what people thought, I could get NCEA if given the chance… and I did. I also wanted to go on the same trips as my peers doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award, but instead, I had to go it alone!
When I left school after Year 13, with NCEA Level 1, NCEA Level 2 and the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, I wanted to work. Why shouldn’t I have a job? A job is not just a job for me, it is something I want to do.
My transition experience was hard. I was grateful for the opportunities, but I wanted to be shown how to do a job by my work colleagues, just like everyone else, and feel part of the work team, not have a support worker shadowing me all the time and feeling isolated.
My break came with a chance conversation my family had with Mahi for Youth. They were great, none of this ‘he won’t be able to do that’ - they asked me what I was interested in and what I could do.
I had an interview, just like everyone else, and I nailed it.
I was employed as a park host for Splash Planet for two summers (would have been three if Covid did not get in the way) and as an assistant horticultural/maintenance worker over the 2022 winter season. What an incredible boss who was prepared to give me an opportunity, and what amazing permanent staff who treated me just like any other worker.
I loved my job at Splash – helping people, giving the public directions and finding them barbecues, helping on the mini-golf, keeping the park tidy by picking up rubbish and emptying bins and restocking duties. I loved the variety of tasks involved in the job. Sadly the park closed early, and then Cyclone Gabrielle hit, so now I have nothing to do on a Monday and a Tuesday.
I want to work in Hastings and I love using public transport to independently get to and from work, especially MyWay, where I have had a role providing feedback on how the service can be improved for people with disabilities.
I believe in myself, and it is important that others believe in what I am capable of too. I love helping people (customer service), creating/giving speeches, communicating with people and reporting on things.
I am a ‘hands-on’ man and have experience in recycling, cleaning vehicles, sorting, restocking, dismantling e-waste and have a good sense of direction. I always turn up for work, I have a sense of humour and I have often been told that my personality is an asset.”
♦ To get in touch with Hamish, you can email his mum Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org