Haddon man Owen Telford knows he has a disability. He’s the first to admit it.
The double amputee, however, would like prospective employers to look past his wheelchair and recognise what he can do, rather than what he can’t.
All he wants is to be given a go.
Mr Telford, a former New Zealand Army soldier and qualified chef, lost both legs - one completely and the other from below the knee - in an horrific industrial accident 16 years ago.
Despite his obvious disabilities, there’s not a lot Mr Telford can’t do, or at least try. He drives a car; can use a bobcat and ride-on lawn mower; does all the cooking at home; established and maintains gardens and lawns on his eight hectare property; cuts wood for the family fireplaces; built decking around his dam; constructed a fully-lined gymnasium for his wife Ali; produces stunning leadlight windows; and plays wheelchair basketball once a week.
He is also heavily involved in the community, being a member of Haddon Lions Club and the scouting movement.
Mr Telford’s disability has also not stopped him enjoying daredevil pastimes like white water rafting, quad bike riding, theme park rides and world travel.
I know I’m disabled, but being knocked back for jobs I know I can do makes me feel more disabled.- - Haddon man Owen Telford
“At the end of the day, I try to do as much as I can. I’ll give anything a go, it’s just some things may take a little bit longer,” Mr Telford said
His injuries were sustained in 2001 when he was dragged into a trenching machine will working at an overpass on the Western Highway at Rockbank, on the outskirts of Melbourne. He completely lost his left leg, while his right leg was amputated below the knee. He has a prosthetic limb on his right leg, which he uses to maneouvre around while in the wheelchair.
But the 53-year-old, who has lived in Australia for 27 years and is an Australia citizen, decided recently he wanted to re-enter the workforce.
While he he was employed as a chef at a Linton cafe for a few months, Mr Telford has essentially suffered a year of constant knock backs from workplaces, which have left him feeling dejected and depressed.
In recent months he has been rejected for a cook’s job at a Ballarat aged care facility and for a position at a major retail outlet in the city. He believes both knock backs were because he is in a wheelchair.
Mr Telford said he was more than qualified for the cook position at the aged care facility and the kitchen was large enough to accommodate his wheelchair. He said he was rejected for the position at the retail outlet because the employer believed he was unable to gain access to the upstairs staff room. However, he said he was able to use crutches to climb stairs and the store’s disabled toilets and customer cafeteria were located on the ground floor.
He said the possibility of Centrelink repaying an employer up to 15 hours a week of his wages was not enough to entice workplaces to offer him a job.
And he believes some online job applications which ask for pre-existing medical conditions, for which he would need to declare being a double amputee, automatically disqualified.
“I’m strong, fit, healthy, reliable and hard working, but I hit a brick wall once people see the wheelchair. They see the disability, rather than the ability. I’ve only got one (prosthetic) foot and I can’t even get that in the door,” Mr Telford said. “I just want to be given a go … put me on a trial period for a few weeks so I can prove what I can and can’t do.
“Every day I’m reminded I’m disabled. Not allowing me an opportunity to show what I can do is a punch in the guts.
“I know I’m disabled, but being knocked back for jobs I know I can do makes me feel more disabled.”
Mr Telford’s family and friends constantly tell him how much of an inspiration he is, but he doesn’t see himself as one. “There is always someone worse off than me.”
Grampians Disability Advocacy Association disability advocate Fiona Tipping said employers should focus on a person’s ability, rather than disability.
“Some employers are shooting themselves in the foot and missing out on benefits by not employing a person with a disability. They are losing out on a very loyal employee, because they have a lot more invested in securing work,” Ms Tipping said.
She said employment agencies were responsible for educating employers about hiring a person with a disability and supporting prospective employees in looking for work
In a statement to The Courier, a Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson said under the Fair Work Act 2009, it was unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or prospective employee on the basis of physical disability.
“Unlawful adverse action can include ... not hiring someone, and offering a potential employee different and unfair terms and conditions for the job compared to other employees,” the spokesperson said.
Any employer or employee seeking advice or assistance can visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website at www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for advice.
Anyone who may be able to help Mr Telford find work can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org