In 1979, at 17-years-of-age, I went on the unemployment benefit having left school at the end of fifth form. I was put into a sheltered workshop to do menial work. I earned $5 for a 40 hour week. Slave labour I called it. I also think it was a means to make the social welfare statistics look better.
I found out later the criteria for being put there was mild brain damage or an intellectual handicap. I had a foot disability. As this was a long way from my brain I walked out. I was classed as a bit of a stirrer anyway because I fought for people's rights. I stood up for the workers as they called us. In my opinion people did not have to suffer such disrespect.
I got out. I had to prove I was OK and what was happening to disabled people wasn't OK.
The only good thing from that time was that I met my wife of 31 years working next door. The workshop told me not to get a girlfriend. They said it wouldn't last. I showed them.
I now have National Certificates in Small Business Management, Computing and Business Administration. I am a trained facilitator teaching people with disabilities human rights, literacy and numeracy. I am also on a national board and many committees to forward my passion for assisting people with disabilities, like me, to be able to make their own choices for their lives.
When I was 40 years old WINZ finally, in all its wisdom, moved me from the unemployment benefit to an Invalids Benefit, recognising that I have a physical disability. But what I really wanted to do was work.
Being productive is the thing that everyone wants to do and if they have the experience why shouldn't they? Yet people who truly want to work are told no just because they are disabled. I wanted to work I was getting all the experience, certificates and qualifications but when I walked into a job interview - of which there were many - they saw the way I was walking and that was it. They say there is no discrimination against disabled unemployed people, but there is.
So I have lived my life as a disabled man doing plenty of volunteer work including tutoring, governance and administration.
For a long time people, disabled and non-disabled, have assumed I have not got a disability, I can tell you I have and it is getting worse. It is my own disability no one has lived my life. I try not to assume I know how other people with disabilities live and what their life experiences so far have been.
We are all trying our best to live our own lives and to make our own choices.