Marty: Employable Me?

By Robyn Iredale

Marty Campbell featured in 2018 in the first series of the ABC’s award-winning documentary series titled Employable Me, broadcast in 2018.

This is a wonderful series that highlights the challenges that people with a disability face when they come to enter the workforce.

Never underestimate these challenges! They are multiple, ongoing and tedious. It requires tenacity on the part of the individual, their family and supporters to keep trying in the face of adversity. Here is Marty’s story.

When Marty was 8, I was told by a school doctor that “I had to face the fact that he would never work”. Good start! The attempts to label him and then move him to a Special School when he was 8-9 led me to hire a Special Education Consultant to give him extra tuition in primary school. Then, the local high school principal refused to accept him— leading to an Anti-Discrimination Board complaint and taxi travel to a special class in another high school.

We overcame these challenges only to discover that workplaces were much harsher places in many ways. The poor understanding among the general population about people with a disability was, and still is, a hurdle that we need to overcome. TV documentaries like Employable Me have helped to show the strengths and idiosyncrasies of our people and perhaps break down some of the misconceptions. Bruce Donald and I wrote a piece in 2007 about ‘How to work with Jane and John’. This has proved very useful at times—mainly to educate bosses.

Marty has had a series of jobs between age 15 and 45: tyre factory hand, landscape worker, paper recycling factory hand, metal factory hand. More recently he has become a part-time retail worker in the Johnson Bros Mitre 10 hardware store at Mona Vale in Sydney. He now works with a bunch of very nice people who understand him and care for him. He loves the customer service aspect of the work and his job has now been confined to that aspect—rather than cleaning, restocking shelves, etc. I receive countless reports of people who go into the store and are greeted by a happy, smiling Marty. The store recently won the ‘Best Hardware Store in Australia’ award. I wonder why?

In spite of the difficulties in education and work, Marty has managed to keep a happy balanced perspective. A lot of this can be attributed to the other things in his life. He has always been ball-crazy and played soccer, golf and cricket when he was young. In his twenties he took up Tae Kwon Do and trained and graded for 10 years. This was excellent discipline and a real challenge for him. When he was in his late 30s he started playing tennis with Special Olympics and this has now become his main hobby. He plays with a local social tennis club every Saturday morning, has private coaching and competes in SO state and national events. His most recent activity is kick-boxing, which came about as a result of his participation in Employable Me.

Marty has two very supportive sisters and step-father who have been engaged in a lot of the decisions about and support of him. Recently, they pressed me to move him out of home and into independent living again. He lived independently in Wollongong but not since we came back to Sydney in 2004.

The lack of appropriate housing for people like Marty is the next major issue to be tackled, by the general population. He did not want to live in a group home or public housing, and there are few cluster homes available. The Housing Connection has one set of 5 villas in Chatswood (Sydney) and I know of another establishment in southern Sydney established by a group of parents (over a period of 10-12 years).

So, the only alternative was to purchase a 2-bedroom unit for Marty to live in with a flat mate. The Housing Connection has a list of people looking for shared accommodation but in Wollongong Marty had flat mates who had a disability and it often became unmanageable. Consequently, we decided to look for an appropriate flat mate on Facebook. Fortunately, it was just after Employable Me screened and so Marty was visible to many. Through this process we found a wonderful woman around the same age as Marty. She works in the care industry and is ideally suited to be a caring companion.

Through the NDIS, Marty now has support from The Housing Connection (Chatswood), HIT100 meals and support workers that I hire through HIREUP. All of these services have made a huge difference to his life and he is now a very happy independent man. His family still supports him in many ways and the latest hurdle has become trying to set up a Special Disability Trust. This is another story for another day……………..

Robyn Iredale, parent of Marty Campbell, and former President of Fragile X Association of Australia

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