The Saturday Express, Blenheim, 12 April 2008
By Angela Crompton
When work demands caused permanent damage to Cathy Macnee's back, future employment opportunities for the registered nurse looked stark.
A whole new career path opened, however, when a Work & Income case manager suggested she seek assistance from non-profit employment agency Workbridge.
"I had applied for office jobs before and hadn't been accepted; you have to have experience. With their (Workbridge) help, I did a course at polytechnic to learn business administration and computer skills so I could change my job because of my disability."
When her training was completed, Workbridge was ready to help again, appointing an occupational therapist to identify what Cathy needed in a work environment.
It even paid for the foot stool she needs under her desk and the special chair with a supportive, padded cover.
Those aids are now part of the office furniture at Mortgage Home in Blenheim where she has been working since October last year.
If her place of work ever changes, through, Cathy can take the special equipment to a new employer.
Cathy praises the support she received from Workbridge.
Its consultants will meet employers and act as in advocate for clients, she says.
Employers tend to be "pretty good", she adds, with Workbridge ensuring their needs are met when they offer work to someone with a disability. Local company director Mark Witchalls finds staff for his business through Workbridge and now promotes the agency with a special banner on his product packaging.
Alongside his Blenheim foods' logo boasting "handmade frozen foods", another banner heralds; Workbridge Mahiri - this employer supports Workbridge - finding real jobs for people with disabilities.
Identical banners are now being offered to all business employing people through Workbridge and the Marlborough initiative is drawing interest from other regions around the country.
The Workbridge name and current format was launched in 1990 but its Mission, to enable people with disabilities to participate and experience equal opportunities in the labour market, began in the 1930s.
That was when the need to help returned servicemen, disabled in the World War 1, to find new employment was officially recognised.
By 1969 the original Soldiers Re-establishment League had become the Disabled Re-establishment League, extending its assistance to include civilians with congenital or accident-caused disabilities.
Workbridge in 2008 can only benefit from a higher profile, says one of its three Blenheim employment consultants, Alan Washington.
The agency's services are equally beneficial to workers and workplaces, Mr Washington says, and employers need not fear the recent legislation ruling all workers' rights to receive the minimum wage.
If costs arise in a workplace when someone with a disability is employed, they can be covered by the Workbridge Support Fund.
It might be for workplace modifications, extra training or a "productivity allowance", covering any difference between a disabled person's output and that of a non disabled colleague.
Fee-free Workbridge assistance to anyone with a handicap lasting at least six months includes helping prepare CVs, filling out job applications and building job interview skills.
People can approach Workbridge independently or be referred by other groups, such as ACC or CSS.