Our phone chat #8 – Thomas

Maria: Hi Thomas! It is always a treat to catch up with you. I am sure that I am going to enjoy another lively conversation. Tell me how are we going to start our phone chat conversation?

Thomas: I am going to give our chat a title, “The economics of disability”.

Maria: Wow! Okay I am really interested to see where this leads.

Thomas: As you know I have struggled to find employment and I am really ashamed of that fact. I used to be able to run around the Waitomo hills dreaming and planning a future but those were all dashed when I developed epilepsy as a 16-year-old. Epilepsy took over my life and now I am faced with the grief of knowing that I will be unable to pursue my former dreams.

When I was growing up there was an expectation for me to get a job, get a job, get a job… and in that process buy a house and save some money. There was too much expectation for me to get a job, I dearly wanted one, and I want one now, but I feel that there are barriers to employment when you have epilepsy. Throw in mental health issues and you can be really are out of luck.

Maria: I understand the barriers around finding, and staying, in employment when you have epilepsy. It is tough and I see lots of people who would like to be employed but find their options really limited.

Thomas: I like the idea of being a blue-collar worker. I wouldn’t mind working in a factory, for example, but many jobs have been packed off shore where wages are dirt cheap. Many jobs have also been automated and so people aren’t needed any more like they used to be.

Maria: Absolutely, I grew up in the olden days of the dinosaurs when there were many blue-collar jobs available. How could we improve things for people living with a disability or chronic condition today?

Thomas: I would like there to be some partnership between the government and the business sector where bosses are encouraged to employ someone with a disability or, in my case, with epilepsy, knowing that sometimes we have limitations in what we can achieve in a day. All it takes is a bit of courage, lots of empathy, and some epilepsy awareness in my case.

Maria: I quite agree. From a business perspective it makes good sense to employ someone with a disability, such as epilepsy. Society’s views on a business are influenced by the people who work there, and if businesses are shown to celebrate diversity and support people with disabilities then there would be strategic, legal, social, ethical, and personal benefits.

Thomas: Yes! I believe that people with any disability, including epilepsy, would make fantastic employees. We are resilient and we want to work! If only we could overcome the stigma and prejudice out there in society to make it happen. It really isn’t a picnic being on a benefit and there is absolutely no quality of life when you live hand-to-mouth. By not having a job affects your mental health which then can affect your epilepsy. It is a bit of a vicious cycle of despair.

Maria: Your title “the economics and disability’ is quite interesting. Many people with a disability, including epilepsy, are underemployed or unemployed simply because of their medical conditions. There is a lot of untapped potential in having these people out of the workforce.

Thomas: There is and it saddens me. I think that I will continue to dream for a better life and hope that a bit of luck, plus perseverance, will eventually find me a job.

Maria: I wish you well, Thomas.