Three years ago Wagga Wagga resident Anita Manning was working in supported disability employment.
Now, she's working full-time hours across two workplaces, advocating for people with disabilities and advising supermarket giant Coles on its national volunteer program.
When she received her first National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan in 2017, Anita had been volunteering at Coles for six years and was also working at her local Riding for the Disabled op shop, where she had been placed by an Australian disability enterprise (ADE).
She'd always wanted to secure a job that offered mainstream employment, but even she had no inkling she would achieve her goal in such spectacular fashion.
Anita, 37, has Moebius Syndrome, a rare neurological condition affecting eye movement and facial expression, and also has a mild intellectual disability.
"I've always been a social person and enjoy hanging out with friends and keeping active," Anita says. "My main goal in life has always been to find a regular job.
"I was determined to move on from supported employment so in 2018 I decided to make securing mainstream employment the principal goal in my second NDIS plan."
Anita did her research and found out about disability employment service (DES) providers. A DES provider helps people with disability find open employment.
"With the help of my mum, family friend Narelle and Sarah from the Regional Disability Advocacy Service (RDAS), I did a lot of work on pre-planning and made sure I was really organised for my plan review meeting," Anita says.
"Emily, my Intereach local area co-ordinator (LAC) at the time, said she was impressed at how organised I was. She was really supportive through the plan review process.
"When I received my new plan with employment funding included, I felt fantastic."
Anita approached DES provider Job Centre in Wagga Wagga, and in November 2018 they helped her find a new volunteer position in the dairy section at Foodworks Turvey Park.
In March 2019, following an employment services assessment over the phone with Centrelink, she finally gained part-time employment at Foodworks.
Then out of the blue, in June 2019 she was approached by Coles to see if she would be interested in meeting with the company's state manager, local store manager and assistant manager to provide advice on its national volunteer program.
Coles also offered her a part-time job in the dairy section of its Wagga store.
"I couldn't believe it when they offered me a paid job," she said. "By the next Monday I was on the payroll."
Since January this year Anita has also been travelling with Sarah Manley from RDAS to towns in the Wagga region, presenting to peers, peer support groups and advocacy groups as part of an NDIS-funded program to facilitate access to the NDIS.
This six-month program provides further hours of paid work to Anita each week.
"All of my experiences over the past three years have helped me overcome my barriers, learn new skills and build confidence," Anita said.
Based on her own experience, Anita has this advice for NDIS participants:
- Go into planning meetings with a clear mind and tell the planner or LAC exactly what you want out of your NDIS plan
- Be organised and get support letters from support workers, therapists and service providers
- Don't be afraid to make your own goals because you can reach them - "Just look at my story."