Always ready with a shy smile, Cameron Parker is a familiar face to many locals, busy wiping tables and mopping floors at Inverell McDonalds.
In his second year of work, Cameron, who has autism, encounters many challenges in the fast-moving environment, but said he has always enjoyed it.
“I liked it when I first came. It’s good,” he said. Cameron first got to know McDonalds through work experience – “While I was a school kid,” he said. Later on, disability service Connections helped him adjust to working life.
“You’re in the A Grade now!” McDonalds manager Ben Butcher said.
Cameron’s mother Carol said earning his own money and gaining independence meant a lot.
“He catches a taxi to and from work and then he goes to the gym and stuff. He’s a bit more independent and he seems to like it,” she said.
Employment opportunities for people with disabilities emerged as a significant issue in the Inverell Shire Council’s recent survey for their draft Inclusion Action Plan. Over half (68.4 per cent) of respondents said they felt local employment opportunities were lacking.
Issues raised included a lack of accessibility for people with disabilities, inadequate toilet facilities and working hour capacity, and stereotyping.
“I do think it’s good, but I do think there’s a lot more which could happen,” Carol said. She said that although Cameron’s transition with Connections was helpful, she would like to see people with disabilities considered for jobs without needing a service’s assistance.
“I do think that is harder, for people getting a job if they’re not in Connections,” she said.
To potential employers, she said “Give them the chance. Look through the disability and give them a chance, because some of them can work twice as hard as what a normally-abled person would.”
Ben admitted that providing a comfortable environment for people with disabilities was a challenge at times.
“The nature of the business has become a lot more fast paced, and put more pressure on the staff as well, so it has become a bit more stressful,” he said.
“We need the right type of personality to fit into what we do, and Cameron is the right person. He has the right personality to be able to talk and mingle with the customers as well, and he gets along quite well with all the employees,” he said.
As an employer, he said it was important to be realistic, and to keep his employees comfortable. He said environments like the store’s busy cafe may be too stressful for some.
“That’s where Connections come in and help us identifying what their strengths are and where they would fit best,” he said.
For potential employers, he said that communication with the employee, their family and and carers was essential. He also said it was also important to spend time setting up the appropriate environment and routine.
“We identified a couple of people who would be working at the same time as Cameron, just to give him a hand,” he said.
“If something does go wrong, he knows who to go and talk to.”