Life is full of challenges. We all accept this and – by and large – embrace it. But there’s a limit. The challenges have to be reasonable. Unfortunately, people living with disabilities such as Ashleigh Chambers find things that many of us take for granted, like having a roof over our heads or paid work, can be major challenges that require perseverance, determination and support.
Ashleigh has had to show greater determination than most all her life. Born an identical mirror twin, her sister was stillborn and Ashleigh was deprived of oxygen for longer than twenty minutes, leaving her with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and scoliosis. Between the ages of two and a half and 27, she had around 45 operations.
These challenges, though, haven’t slowed her down. A lover of sport, Ashleigh is an avid player of wheelchair tennis and racing, but her real passion is basketball. Right now, she’s in training to represent the Victorian Wheelchair Basketball Association.
Another side to her life involves raising awareness for those living with disabilities. Ashleigh visits high schools, primary schools and businesses and talks alongside others about what life for them is like in our society. The audience then gets a chance to take some wheelchairs for a spin. What’s made to look easy by those who use them every day is quickly found out to be exhausting after ten minutes, engaging muscles we never knew we had.
…meets society’s hurdles
It’s clear that Ashleigh is a capable and driven person, contributing more to society than many can claim. It’s easy to assume that doing basic things like getting paid work and finding a roof over her head isn’t much of a challenge for her. But the reality is different.
Here’s an example. Finding rental accommodation is hard. Not only are landlords reluctant to approve an application from a disabled person, they’re also unwilling to approve those with no rental history. It’s a catch 22.
Despite all this, Ashleigh found a shared house whose occupants were happy for her to move in. After jumping through more hoops than usual to appease the landlords, she was approved. But she can’t ask the DHS for help with the bond because she’ll be removed from the waiting list for her own house through Housing Victoria. So Ashleigh has to scrounge together a bond on her own dime – and work isn’t easy to come by.
Most job applications begin with a phone call – which, with Ashleigh’s attitude, she usually aces. But the resume presents a stumbling block. On it, you’ll see her qualifications in Business Administration, IT, Photography, Mental Health, Sports and a Cert 4 in Disability. Impressive under any circumstance.
But you’ll also read about her disability. Ashleigh is honest about this; she doesn’t want to deceive any potential employer. So when they see she needs extra time off for medical appointments, the door shuts.
The fact is that Ashleigh is often over-qualified for the positions she is denied – and all because the vast majority of businesses are unwilling to make small adaptations in return for the boon Ashleigh would be to their workplace.
Perseverance wins in the end
The level of determination Ashleigh exhibits on a day-to-day basis is enough to propel most people to the top of whatever pursuit they choose. For Ashleigh, it’s barely enough to secure work and a roof. Sometimes, it’s all too tempting to just throw the towel in.
When we met Ashleigh, we recognised all too well the struggles she’s faced. They are common among those living with disabilities. Our role, while small, is crucial. We are here to lower the hurdles as far as we can, to pick up the phone and make calls so you don’t have to, to move things along and remove any potential obstacles. We keep the ball moving.
Thanks to her strength of character, Ashleigh has secured housing and a job at Apple. Hers is an inspirational story, but only because of the adversity she’s had to overcome in a society that thinks of itself as compassionate and progressive. Once we learn to look past a person’s disability and see the asset they truly are, there’s no one who doesn’t benefit.