Iz Connell is 23 and lives with a psychosocial disability called schizoaffective disorder. Iz who studied social work has found the public commentary directed at people with disability and their capacity to work frustrating, short-sighted and insulting. She aspires to use her voice to advocate for herself as a person with disability and as a member of the gay community. She lives with her family in Newcastle.
Prior to being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at the age of 21, I worked part time while I was at school and full time for a few years afterwards, mainly for a multinational fast food company as well as for a maintenance company in its call centre.
Schizoaffective disorder means I experience many of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia, plus a mood disorder similar to depression. It was around that I was forced to leave work due to my disability worsening (I’ve been mentally ill since I was a teenager) that politician Joe Hockey famously divided Australians into two categories: ‘Lifters and Leaners’ placing people with disabilities into the latter category. I felt very betrayed by this statement, both by my mind due to my episodic and increasing incapacity to work, and by the politician who essentially said that people are not useful to society unless they can work and pay tax.
One in five Australians has a disability, but only 5.5% of the working age population receive a disability support pension. Many of us work or are preparing for work, and both Australian and international studies have shown that workers with disability have fewer scheduled absences (including sick leave), longer tenures and have no differences in productivity or performance to other workers.*
As a student with a disability training to be a social worker I have learned that having a disability is not a burden as another prominent politician has said, but rather a different way of interacting with, perceiving or participating in the world.
Many of us are capable not in spite of our disability but also because of it. Stephen Hawking said his ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) has focused his thought processes leading to many of his most important works. Van Gogh’s perceptions of reality greatly influenced the way he painted. Beethoven’s symphonies are unique for the lack of high notes he could not hear. As a social worker I will have a unique perspective and life experiences which will influence the way I adapt social work theories, skills and discourses to my practice.
In my future paid employment, I hope to advocate for, research and provide services to other people with schizophrenia and psychotic spectrum disorders. I believe in the slogan ‘nothing about us without us’, which means that minority groups should always lead and have a leading voice in research, policy, legislative changes and other events that directly affect our lives - I can’t wait!
* Sources: Percentage of the population data from ABS 2 (http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/0/49BEE5774F0FB1B1CA256E8B00830DF6?OpenDocument), DSP percentage data from hhttp://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-05/jericho-disability-support-pension/5297540?pfmredir=sm hich cites DSS Statistical papers.