'Hidden' flaws can turn into stars
The Daily Post, Rotorua, July 2008
By Julie Taylor
Not all disabilities are visible as apprentice panel beater Richard Gahan knows only too well.
The 18-year old Rotorua man struggled at school and really only enjoyed automotive classes. He left school at 14 with undiagnosed learning disabilities.
Having worked part-time after school for PSY Slater Panel Beaters, he leapt at the chance of an apprenticeship with the firm.
But employers Mike Young and Neil Porter soon realised that Richard was struggling with his paperwork despite doing well with the practical side of things.
"He was falling behind on his assessments," Mr Young said. "As far as hands-on went he was a natural but paperwork was a big problem."
With help from the NZ Motor Industry Training Organisation, they recognised the problem and contacted Workbridge - an organisation that supports people with all forms of disability in the workplace.
"Once Maurice got involved we saw a huge difference," Mr Young said.
Maurice Thompson is an employment consultant with Workbridge who was assigned as a reader/writer to help Mr Gahan with the written side of his apprenticeship commitments three years ago. Mr Gahan is now expecting to complete his course in a matter of weeks and even won Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust's Johnny Lepper apprenticeship scholarship in 2006. "Without Maurice's help I would probably not even be half way through," he said. "He gives me motivation and makes me get the work done."
Previously, when he did not understand what had to be done, Mr Gahan would just put things in the 'too-hard' basket and ignore them.
"I just didn't know what they wanted," he said.
But Mr Thompson stressed that his role was purely a support one.
"It is still Richard that has done all the work. He wants to do this and he takes real pride in his work."
He said employment can be more difficult for people with hidden disabilities such as learning problems, dyslexia or diabetes because others cannot see the disability and do not always recognise it.
But with more people with hidden and visible disabilities seeking support through agencies like Workbridge he hopes there will be more success stories like Mr Gahan's.