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Hiker and mountain climber Penny has come full circle when it comes to defeating physical obstacles. An accident on a mountain years ago left her requiring five spinal fusions with instrumentation, including screws, bolts and cables. But her love for the mountains and outdoors pushed her to work hard and she continues to hike. We shared her story previously on the occasion of the International Day of People with Disability.
“What I learnt is that a supportive team is integral to reaching my aspirations,” Penny says.
When Penny discovered Mable at an information stand at her local shopping centre, she found that support can look completely different to what she was used to.
“I have experienced support workers who attempt to impose their perception of what I can or can’t do. Or, worse, that they can speak for me. I believe in the value of mutual respect and effective communication.”
Mable, Penny says, has offered her choice and control over who she engages as her support workers, and in what capacity they work. She values the flexibility to be able to schedule support sessions around her activities.
“What we need,” she explains, “are the resources and social structures that support adventures such as my hiking. The diversity of Mable’s support workers enables me to achieve my aspirations and goals.”
Aside from the basic care she receives through Mable, such as shopping, personal care and transport, Penny has enlisted the services of equally passionate hikers. Rachel, her current support worker, shares her love for the outdoors and adventure. Many clients request for a ‘meet and greet’ with support workers on Mable before booking them, and so did Penny. “ Our initial meet and greet was a hike on Mt Jerrabomberra.”
The two women hiking together helps Penny to establish social connections and gain a sense of inclusion and belonging in her community.
“Hiking gives me a sense of calm and connection with the earth,” Penny says. “In combination with physio and exercise physiology, I can maintain and improve my capacity. Some days, I can hike up steep inclines for a couple of hours, other days I can barely walk to the letterbox. So, my support workers need to be able to accommodate my physical capacity on any given day.”
Penny says Mable Last Minute is “invaluable”, as she can organise a support session with as little as four hours’ notice, according to how she’s feeling.
“Hiking, for me, is the essence of life. Taking note of the noises around me, the birds and sounds of wind in the trees is restorative. Challenging my physical ability gives me control over how I view myself. ”
Meet Rachel, Penny’s support worker from Mable
“My experience has been outstanding,” Rachel says. “As an independent support worker with Mable, I can manage my own work and have the opportunity to engage with new clients if I choose to. What I love about this is that I know I can take on clients whose interests and needs match mine.”
Upon their first meet and greet, Penny and Rachel embarked on a short walk, where Penny was able to explain her support requirements.
“We were able to talk very openly about expectations, such as me walking behind her when on tricky terrain. Having had those conversations during our meet and greet meant that I knew the protocol for future engagements. Penny and I shared a few laughs, shared our love or nature and being outdoors and our passion for other things, like advocacy. I quickly discovered there was a lot I could learn from her, and I knew the role was something I could do really well.”
A typical support session involves Rachel picking up Penny from home, driving out to the hiking location and carrying the backpack while walking together. Depending on Penny’s physical condition on the day, Rachel might simply walk alongside her and have a chat, or might walk in front of her, looking out for unstable terrain. She also monitors Penny’s physical state during the walk, making sure to adjust the route or encourage pausing, as necessary.
Rachel encourages others to explore Mable as a way to pursue a career in becoming a support worker..“Sign up and take a look around to start with. You don’t have to dive in head-first but take baby steps. Looking at the job posts is a great place to start and you can work out the support services you can provide and engage with clients when you feel you’re a match for their needs.”