Nowra woman Sarah Elliot is laying claim to being New South Wales' first blind female apprentice chef after completing a TAFE cookery course.
When Nowra cafe owner Tonya Hughes agreed to take on Ms Elliot as an apprentice chef, she provided a rare opportunity after a series of setbacks.
Since completing the TAFE course last year, Ms Elliot applied for numerous positions but the qualified cook ran into endless "brick walls".
She then received a "yes" from the cafe where she was already a regular.
"It meant more than you can ever know," Ms Elliot said.
"Tonya said yes and for me, that meant everything.
"To set aside any incredulity that may have been there and consider the impossible, possible."
'Passionate to see her do well'
With the help of colleagues and an assistant provided by an Illawarra disability support agency, Ms Elliot is now working part-time and autonomously.
Ms Hughes — her employer and owner of the Deli on Kinghorne — said it was inspiring to see someone so determined to achieve their goals despite a significant disability.
"Yes, it is quite difficult and she's rostered on when I have both my chefs so one can help Sarah, but you have to admire somebody who has such a passion for wanting to do something that is so challenging being visually impaired."
Treated like the other workers
Ms Elliot said her employer expected the same quality of work from her as any of her fellow staff and that had helped improve her skills.
"If I need sighted assistance, my fellow apprentices and kitchen workers are happy to check things or read things for me," she said.
"We have the ability to think outside the square and think on our feet, so it's doable for me in real time and in a way that's completely perfect for the punters.
Striking gold in commercial kitchen
Ms Elliot's introduction to a commercial kitchen was a gentle one.
Ms Hughes said the apprentice was initially assigned "very junior tasks" and started working one day a week, which has now increased to a more substantial part-time arrangement.
"So one day she'll slice a box of mushrooms and make sure there's garlic and thyme and oil and get it ready to put into the oven.
"She's doing a large amount of prep work and she's not working the pass yet, but we're in the process of getting our till software which prints out the food dockets to get a solution to put it in brail."
Ms Elliot said she appreciated the care and effort the cafe was taking to make her employment successful.
She said the process of seeking work as someone with a disability could lead to self-doubt.
"You know the truth and what is possible and what you're capable of doing, so to come slamming headfirst into the culture of low expectations, it can be very taxing and you begin to question yourself.