The ability to embrace disability

Published: 20 February 2024

Rebecca Hope

By Skills and Employment

Rebecca Hope, Victorian Trainee of the Year 2023, shares how having a disability is a strength.

Asking for help can be tough. And especially so for Rebecca Hope. Identified as autistic with a generalised anxiety disorder at the age of 5, she always felt like she was different but found it hard to explain exactly how. It made it difficult for Rebecca to ask for what she needed.

‘During times of discomfort, I ask myself do I want to stay as I am or do I want to grow?’ Rebecca said. It’s the daily question she asks herself that encourages her to ask for help when she needs it.

Rebecca’s courage to ask for help has played a part in getting to where she is now, as Trainee of the Year at the 2023 Victorian Training Awards.

The award recognises her outstanding commitment to a traineeship with the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions in the Employment Programs team, organising initiatives for graduates, interns and trainees. All while doing her Certificate IV in Business at Melbourne Polytechnic – her sixth TAFE course.

This was a big achievement for Rebecca, previously finding it hard to attend school because of her autism. Now with TAFE courses under her belt including Animal Studies, Applied Learning, Community Services and Work Education, her days of holding back from education are long behind her.

With adjustments in the workplace, including being able to wear noise-cancelling headphones and work in spaces with reduced lighting, she was able to thrive in the Employment Programs team.

‘My autism shows up as mainly anxiety and I don’t like loud noises and bright lights – these factors have been taken into consideration at work with a very accommodating manager and team,’ Rebecca said.

‘Some days will be better than others and they’re very understanding.’

‘I also don’t freak out as much anymore if I get something wrong, I know it’s part of learning both in an education and work environment.’

Rebecca’s decision to continuously grow saw her confidence bloom. When an opportunity came up, after completing her traineeship, to work as a program coordinator at Amaze – Victoria’s autism peak body enhancing the lives of autistic people – Rebecca jumped at the chance.

‘It was an easy decision to be part of a company that grows disability awareness and give hope to others to achieve their goals in life,’ Rebecca said.

Giving autism a voice

Amaze says around 1 in 100 Australians are autistic and 85% of the community has a personal connection with an autistic person.

‘Autism is the most rapidly growing NDIS funded group and more and more people are identifying as autistic and engaging with Amaze’s services,’ Rebecca said.

Autism affects the way individuals interact with others, how they experience their every day and behave in social situations. While autism can create different interactions, it can also offer unique strengths and challenges.

‘Autism is one of those invisible disabilities and the way it presents itself is different for each person,’ Rebecca said.

Rebecca is learning to embrace her autism and create awareness that it has its own culture, unique strength and offers a different perspective.

‘I used to withhold certain information until I was comfortable telling someone about my disability,’ Rebecca said.

‘Now I’m upfront with everyone I meet, people are usually more curious and I no longer fear what they might be thinking.’

Her fear stems from hearing a lot of negativity when it comes to disability. Rebecca says some people tend to focus on the disability more than the person.

‘I want to help drive change, upskill employers, teachers and the whole community – I want to show how people like me can add value when we are accommodated in an equitable manner.’

Building identity in disability

Rebecca is using her recent award as Trainee of the Year 2023 to show the impact of autism in the workplace and grow disability awareness, giving hope to others that they can achieve similar career aspirations.

‘There’s some amazing programs out there where you can get hands-on training from direct experience,’ she says, pointing to initiatives such as the Integrated Practical Placements Program – a pre-employment program for young adults with disabilities run by Holmesglen TAFE, which involves an extended work placement alongside study.

The support for those with disabilities is available for those looking for it and for Rebecca, she pushed through and found a place of acceptance from others and in herself.

‘For me, being autistic is central to my identity and I wouldn’t be who I am without it.’

To find out more, visit the Victorian Training Awards.

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