Ausnew Home Care | Shay used to work behind the scenes — now he's up front smashing autism stereotypes

Shay used to work behind the scenes — now he's up front smashing autism stereotypes

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Hotel porter Shay Bell is busy welcoming guests during the holiday season at a five-star hotel in Sydney.

The 22-year-old loves his smart uniform and the hustle and bustle of guests, coming and going in the foyer.

Part of his job at the Fullerton Hotel is pushing trolleys laden with suitcases to and from hotel rooms.

Mr Bell — who has autism and a speech delay — said engaging with guests was his biggest strength and the best part of his job.

"I like being the front person and making everybody smile," Mr Bell said.

"It makes me feel like I've accomplished something."

A young white man with short hair working as a bell boy in a hotel lobby
Shay Bell is smashing stereotypes of people with autism at his new job, but the path there wasn't always easy.(ABC News: Billy Cooper)

People with autism, such as Mr Bell, experience some of the highest rates of unemployment in Australia.

Stereotypes mean they can get pigeonholed by a belief they are only suitable for certain careers, which restricts their work choices. 

Cliches, including a lack of people skills or a love of maths, have been perpetuated by characters in movies such as Rain Man.

Mr Bell is breaking the stereotype with his front-of-house hospitality role.   

He said he enjoys being part of the team.  

"The staff are really supportive. They are always there when I need help and directing me to do tasks," he said. 

'What works for one doesn't work for all' 

Being employed is important to Mr Bell, but it hasn't been an easy journey to find work that fits his skills and interests.

His previous jobs have included working in a laundry, a cafe and for a landscape gardener.

"I have done jobs which have no customer interaction, where I've been out the back," he said.

"I didn't really like them."

Sandra Jones — the pro vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University — said many employers could do more to increase opportunities for people with autism.

A middle-aged white woman wearing a pink shirt, scarf and glasses
Sandra Jones says businesses need to ignore stereotypes about what the kind of work people with autism can do. (ABC News: Patrick Stone)

She said businesses needed to ignore stereotypes that suggest only roles in IT, engineering and accounting would suit employees with autism.

"What works for one autistic person doesn't work for all autistic people," she said.

Professor Jones — who has autism — has conducted research in collaboration with a number of organisations into the experiences of those with autism in finding work.

She said the unemployment rate remained "ridiculously high".

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2018 there were 205,000 people with autism in Australia and those who were of working age were almost eight times more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people.

Even compared to people with other disabilities, people with autism are three times more likely to be unemployed. 

"It is outrageous that we are so much less likely to be in employment than people who have any other disability or people who have no disability," Professor Jones said.

Barriers to employment include inaccessible job application processes and workplaces. 

Professor Jones said workplace adjustments don't have to be expensive.

"Let autistic people come in and do the job and show you the skills that they've got," she said. 

"If you accept the ways that we communicate, the way that we move, the way that we act, then we're actually going to be much happier, and much more productive employees."

'We can do great work'

The South Australian government has taken a lead on autism strategy this year, appointing an assistant minister for autism, Emily Bourke.

Ms Bourke is rolling out an autism strategy that has been co-designed with people who live with autism.

"If we want [autistic] people to get into the workforce, if we want to make change, then we have to bring knowledge to our workplaces," Ms Bourke said.

With the state government the biggest employer in South Australia, Ms Bourke said they would lead by example. 

"If we can roll out to every government agency a charter and say this is what we can do as an employer and this is what we can do better as an employee to be more inclusive, we will start to be able to have that real cultural change in our society."

Ms Bourke said private industries were also reaching out to make changes to their workforces.      

Mr Bell has been receiving training in hospitality at Hotel Etico in the Blue Mountains, Australia's first social enterprise hotel that provides employment and training opportunities for young people with intellectual disabilities.

A National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant, Mr Bell used part of his funding to access the training. 

It was Hotel Etico that helped Mr Bell set up and prepare for an interview with the Fullerton Hotel.

"The manager of the hotel was friendly and she liked me from the start," he said. 

A young white man with short hair working as a bell boy in a hotel lobby
Shay Bell is enjoying being part of the front-of-house team.(ABC News: Billy Cooper)

Mr Bell works at the hotel two days a week and his job is helping him become more independent. 

He dreams of working full-time.

"I love being paid, because I get to have lots of money in my account and I get to save up," he said.

People with autism are just like everyone else, Mr Bell said, with different strengths and weaknesses.

"With a little extra support and patience, we can do some great work and we can contribute to society."


Source: ABC

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