By Jane Britt, Business Transformation Graduate
From a bird's eye perspective, I can see myself on that day. I'd dressed in my best professional clothes and I can see myself marching with purpose through Roma St Station to my train, alongside hundreds of others who were similarly dressed, beaming to myself because finally I was one of them. I was finally taking my place in the workforce. I finally belonged somewhere.
The honest truth is that I was also terrified internally. I felt a sense of excitement about finally taking my place in the workforce. However, a sense of imposter syndrome permeated every fibre of my being, like it had since leaving tertiary education. I held that inside though and tried to exude an air of confidence.
Fake it 'til you make it, right?
It would take months, but eventually, my fear of being "found out" would diminish with each new professional milestone, each mistake corrected, each new lesson learnt. My time in Vision Australia's Graduate Program has fortified my belief that not only am I able to take on new challenges and thrive, it has also unexpectedly solidified my life's purpose for advocacy (but more on that later!).
Once my confidence started to develop, I started to make connections. First, I reached to my colleagues at Coorparoo and then in Sydney and Melbourne. I started to look up others on LinkedIn in my industry. I started saying "yes" to every professional opportunity offered even if it triggered the imposter syndrome.
I learnt quickly that no matter what the outcome of saying "yes" would be, that I had to get back in the saddle and do it again and again to build fundamental skills to successfully do whatever task I'd been asked to do.
I was also driven along by moments of joy observed at Coorparoo; All the dogs who madly wag their tails and look lovingly at you when you pass them (especially you Koyu!), seeing the Children's Services team decking out their pod with substantial flair and realising with amusement that my pod had soundly been thumped in the Christmas decoration comp, the time I briefly became famous when I got off the train for work and discovered months later that it had been filmed and immortalised conversation and all on Gardening Australia. (I have no green thumb and when the first person sent me a message, I assumed it was definitely mistaken identity. After a flood of messages and phone calls over the next five minutes, I realised I had indeed been sighted on the show.)
After working at Vision Australia a while, I was offered writing work by the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Disability and Education (ADCET) after they saw my advocacy about education in The Australian after an interview I had undertaken when a report had been produced by Vision Australia about accessibility in higher education.
After a while, I also landed another part-time job in stakeholder engagement and management for the Disability Leadership Institute. I started to stretch myself and started to believe that my goal of moving into advocacy work could be realised.
I started to dream about what more I could do and how I could create a platform from which to speak to the broader community about my experiences. I have absolutely no doubt at this time that beyond my career goals, I will end up back in higher education to fortify my ability to advocate for myself and others.
I am here to advocate for and with my community and I refuse to be silent until I start to see systemic barriers broken down for the disability community, particularly in education and employment.
Although I believe the Royal Commission commencing next year will expose these barriers to the general public who have previously been oblivious, I think it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making significant strides for change. I want to be a part of change-making.
My next role will be Policy Officer for Blind Citizens Australia, where I can transfer and translate not only the technical skills, but the confidence I have developed through my time at Vision Australia.
I also get to move directly towards my dreams of advocacy work.
In finishing my reflection here, I want to express my deepest gratitude to my colleagues near and far for their support through the past 16 months. It has been a true honour to meet and know all of you who are passionately engaged in making a difference for people with low vision and blindness, like myself.
I will especially miss my Coorparoo colleagues. Your kindness to me has given me the impetus to go forth and make sure I can achieve my dreams. To my manger, Courtney, thanks for taking a chance by employing me. I was starting to despair after months of job hunting and I'll forever be grateful for the day you told me not to despair, that you had an offer.
My first step into the workforce has taught me far more than technical skills. It has taught me that everyone starts at that same, uncertain place. I have also learnt that even if you're terrified about your disability being a preclusion to taking up meaningful work, it truly is a barrier which can be broken when others see your capabilities and see YOU for who you are.
Instead of a girl with glasses and a cane, I became a woman with the capability to reach my career goals like everyone else. I will forever be grateful for that experience.