Mathew was around two years old when we first received the diagnosis from the paediatrician of his intellectual disability. Of course, I was full of questions, one of which was about his future; would he be able to work? The paediatrician explained that while “he wouldn’t be the CEO of our family-owned business, he would be able to work there one day”. We loved the paediatrician’s optimism, even in the face of Mathew’s new diagnosis and the potential of a challenging life ahead.
It’s wonderful that Mathew, who is now 20 years old, has the opportunity to work at our family-run business, Ocean Made Seafood. We established Ocean Made over 21 years ago and wholesale the finest seafood – both fresh and frozen – to some of Melbourne’s leading restaurants and hotels. We also have a retail presence at our Collingwood factory.
Over the last year, Mathew and two of his friends have become colleagues, working one day a week at Ocean Made. Our three employees with a disability complete the same jobs as many of our staff, from packing fish in the factory to cleaning bins and working in the retail shop. They have also started doing deliveries with the drivers to some of the restaurants in the CBD. They love coming in and completing a day’s work.
“While he may not be the CEO, [Mathew] and his friends are leading the way, teaching us all invaluable lessons.”
Initially, we looked for jobs that we knew could be challenging for the boys but would have a positive outcome. We brought in an occupational therapist to assist us and they designed a visual manual with a step-by-step guide to each job. It’s through repetition that the boys learned how to complete each task.
There have been some obstacles and struggles along the way, but we have always found solutions. The factory is a noisy place with lots of constant activity and that makes it hard for some of the boys to focus, so they use earphones to calm the noise levels.
The positive experience of working in this environment, for everyone, is being together. Hanging out in the lunchroom with the other staff gives the boys a feeling of belonging that they do not often feel. They clock in and out of work and have a strong sense of achievement. They are involved in the community, talk to people and feel accepted.
What’s been lovely to notice is how the atmosphere shifts when the boys arrive each Tuesday. Our staff are so respectful and helpful to them. I feel that it’s really important for our own staff to have Mathew and his colleagues working with us, as they learn a lot from the boys and have embraced them as part of the team. It also makes people in our community start to understand how to communicate with people like the boys; it’s a learning experience for both parties.
As his mum, I have witnessed Mathew’s pride as he puts on his uniform every Tuesday and heads in to work. He loves to be able to come home and talk about his day with the family. The paediatrician was right: Mathew is working in our business, and while he may not be the CEO, he and his friends are leading the way, teaching us all invaluable lessons.