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How I found my first job as someone with a physical disability

Carl Thompson

When you think of a person’s first job, what comes to mind? Delivering the newspaper? Working at McDonald’s? Mowing the lawns for your neighbours?

What do these jobs all have in common?

Apart from low pay, all these jobs involve a high degree of manual labour – or to be more specific, fine and gross motor skills.

What do you do if you have a physical disability and cannot flip burgers? What if you cannot throw the newspaper over the fence while riding a bike?

These were the questions I asked myself when I was 16 and all my able-bodied friends were working, and I wasn’t. My physical disability meant I was a power wheelchair user, and I simply couldn’t work stacking the shelves at Woolworths. This wasn’t discrimination, this was just reality.

But what could I do about it? I wanted to work. I did quite well at school, and by all accounts and purposes I was relatively “smart”. Yet unfortunately it doesn’t matter how smart you are – if you are 16 years old and don’t have any qualifications, there are simply very few entry-level jobs that focus on your intellectual abilities over your physical ones.

I needed to get creative.

Video games were my passion (I was a teenager, after all) and I spent more time and money than I care to admit on them. My parents sometimes bought me new video games at local garage sales for cheap, and I realised that some of these were actually worth a fair bit of money on eBay.

My good friend was just as interested in video games as I was, and he was physically able to get up at 6 AM in the morning and ride around town going to all the local garage sales on a Saturday morning, snapping up any video game bargains and bringing them back to my home to start the resale process.

Garage Sale Brothers was born.

Because we both knew lots about videogames, we knew which ones were worth money and which ones weren’t. Every Saturday my friend bought the video games and together we photographed them all, wrote elaborate advertisements, and sold them for a handsome profit. It expanded out from just videogames to a wide variety of items. I remember buying a dirty, unorganised box of Lego for five bucks – taking it home, cleaning it up, organising it and selling it in sets. We sold it for $600!

Our advertisements became more elaborate, we developed our branding, our photography skills, and learnt the ins and outs of eBay. We often made $500 a week, each. And we did this for almost 2 years. Why be a paperboy when you can make this much money off Mario?

Can you guess what I studied at university? I enrolled in a Bachelors Degree of Business, majoring in Marketing. Was I interested in business before we started Garage Sale Brothers? Maybe. Was I interested in it more as a result? Definitely.

My Business Degree kickstarted my other employment; where I worked in an internship for the Australian Government and later landed a part-time job working in marketing for a wheelchair company. I’ve been fortunate enough to work ever since, in a number of diverse roles. I now run my own business, and slowly but surely it’s growing.

I have Garage Sale Brothers to thank for this, as it gave me the confidence and skills to kickstart my career in my own way.

So, what advice would I have for other people with disability who might be worrying about what they can do for work?

I would recommend trying hard not to worry about the things you can’t do. I knew at 16 I would never be frying chicken at KFC. And that’s okay.

Think about what you can do, and think about where there might be opportunities that haven’t yet been filled. Hopefully, what you come up with will also align with your interests.

You don’t need to be as interested in video games as I was – but you do need to be interested in something. That interest will improve your motivation to make things work and ironically make whatever work you choose to do feel less like work.

About Carl Thompson: Carl has cerebral palsy and uses a power wheelchair. He runs a NDIS Consultancy and Support Coordination business, Sort Your Support. Over many years, he has developed in-depth knowledge of the NDIS from both a personal and professional perspective – including writing and delivering NDIS workshops to people with disability and organisations around Australia. Away from the NDIS, Carl runs a YouTube channel about living with a disability and spends most of his free time looking after his Cavoodle, Oscar.

Sort Your Support
Carl’s YouTube Channel

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