Examining Your Advantages

With the HSC in full swing, and year ten exams just around the corner, many of my clients are facing the pressure of exams. Here are my top-five tips for disabled students, to help you beat the exam blues. Most of them are appropriate for all students, so share them with your friends, and feel free to take the credit when they thank you.

Use the support you are offered

As a disabled student, you should have support in place that helps level the playing field for your exams. This can include being allowed extra time, sitting in your own room, having someone read or write for you, and even modified exam papers (this is not an exhaustive list). All of these supports are there to help you.

I’ve noticed that there is often a negative association with these supports. This can come from you feeling like you want to be treated no differently to other students. In some cases my clients are refusing to take the help offered because of the stigma they attach to it.

In short, you need to get over it.

This article by Stella Young tells her story about understanding that asking for help does not rob you of independence. Support for students with disabilities isn’t there to give you a different outcome- it’s there to help you achieve similar outcomes to other students through a different process. Every student has different approaches to study, and you should see your support mechanisms as another piece of your study approach. Use whatever you can to get the best results: that’s what every other student will be doing too.

Keep it regular

Whether you’re leaving school after your exams, or matriculating to the elective-rich environment of senior school or tertiary education, you’re in for some changes. You’ll be leaving a world of rigid timetables and spoon-fed homework assignments, and experiencing new freedom with how you organize your day. This means the responsibility of timetabling is (largely) yours.

Study vacations, free periods, non-exam days: these are not downtime. Plan your day so that you are keeping hours fairly similar to those you did at school. One of my clients, whose disability makes timetabling a real challenge, came up with the simple solution of sticking exactly to her class timetable. This means she’ll gradually get more free time as she completes each exam. You may be able to afford yourself a little more flexibility than this: do whatever works best for you.

Put down the books

This tip ties in very closely with the last, and it’s simple. You need to find downtime in your schedule. Remember that bit in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones where Jango Fett launches a seismic charge at Obi-Wan in the asteroid field?

Yes, I’m a nerd. Let’s move on.

That section of the film is remarkable because of how it sounded. For just a moment, there wasn’t any sound at all- total silence is very rare in film. It made the sound that came afterward spectacular and memorable. The designer talks about it here.

Scheduling yourself some relaxation time makes you more effective when you are working. Don’t feel guilty when you update your Facebook status, you’re actually helping your brain to refocus on the task at hand. The trick is to make your downtime part of your schedule and stick to it. And maybe check out the new Star Wars Blu-rays. They’re awesome.

Your body is a temple, not a schoolies party (yet)

This tip applies to everyone, but is particularly important if you have a tailored diet or take medication to help manage your disability. Everything you eat and drink has a direct effect on you. At this time of your life, energy drinks and time-compressing snacks seem like attractive choices, but you’re probably doing your exam chances more harm than good.

You need sleep, and given the stress you’re under, that sleep won’t come easy. Those of you that suffer anxiety or other mental health conditions are especially vulnerable right now. Help yourself by maintaining a healthy diet- this means cutting down on sugar and other stimulants. Most importantly, maintain your usual medications and be aware of the contraindications they can involve. Now is not a good time to be sick if you can help it.

You’re ready already

I’m sure you’ve had teachers, tutors, and other mentors tell you this, but it’s worth repeating. Cramming will get you nowhere. If you don’t know it now, you probably won’t know it on exam day.

This is just fine. The fact is, you’ve been preparing for these exams for a long time, and you’re ready.

In many ways, if you’re living with a disability, you’ve got an advantage over those who don’t in terms of your preparation for exams. You know what adversity and pressure can do, because you deal with it every day. The exams are just another thing that you can deal with. You have the training and expertise to manage your disability- and that’s a far bigger test than anything the Board of Studies can throw at you.

Breathe, and relax. You’ve got this covered.

If you have any great tips for surviving exams, please post a comment.


Changing the Game

I’m part of the generation that grew up with video games, pen-and-paper role-playing games, tabletop wargames, and online mobile games. If you’re reading this and have a mobile telephone in your pocket, it’s likely that you have more gaming power in that one device than was available to the sum total of all previous generations (that was speculative, but I’m confident, like an Angry Bird). Games are increasingly part of everyday life, and it’s time we understood how they can make people more employable.

Games have copped a bad rep over the past decade or so, blamed for time-wasting, lowering academic performance, causing mental health problems, even inciting hate-crime. It’s only recently that our Attorneys-General decided that games should be treated the same as other media, and that took a long time. This indicates that there is a lot we don’t understand about games, and as employment providers, this is an opportunity for us to learn about the next generation of workers.

Recent findings from science research companies are showing that gamers have specific problem-solving skills that are highly valuable in the workplace. If that report was a little verbose for you, the story was also reported by The Age. A skillset that is fun to learn, uniquely needed, and possessed primarily by younger people? That’s great news for employers. It’s great news for people with disabilities too, because it shows that some skills transcend perceived workplace limitations.

I want to share a more specific example of this from my own case files. One of my clients, let’s call him Harry (see my previous post, and thanks to Jacquie F for the advice) is a regular gamer. Talking about games was a good way for me to build rapport with him. I like to find out what type of games my clients play, and it turns out that Harry and I have pretty similar gaming tastes. Harry struggles with communication, especially with new people, so this common ground was a blessing. It also turned out to be critical in placing Harry in a job.

An internet startup that runs out of Tamworth needed someone to attract hits to their website. Harry is able to do this by posting reviews, strategy articles, and other posts about the games he plays. He actively looks for questions that people are asking in forums, then posts answers on his employer’s site. There’s no direct contact with other people, so the work leverages both Harry’s interests and his preferred methods of communication. Harry may also be able to use the work that he’s performing to satisfy some school curriculum outcomes. In gaming terms, that’s an epic win.

The lesson from Harry’s story is that disability employment providers shouldn’t just be changing the rules, e.g., offering wage subsidies or supported wages: we should be changing the game. When I started working with Harry, I didn’t consider his gaming skills particularly relevant to employment. Now they are his employment. Harry brought his skills to the employer and found a way to use them productively. How do your skills present unique and creative opportunities for potential employers? Post your ideas in the comments section.

Anonymity v. Irony

One of the difficulties in writing about what I do is that all the details are strictly confidential, including people’s names.

At first this presents an opportunity to be creative. We all loved dreaming up names for our fictional heroes and villains in school, back when writing creatively was not just encouraged but compulsory. For those of us that don’t invent characters anymore, there are pets, cars, and even household appliances to name: don’t ever try to reformat a hard drive without naming it respectfully.

Though we practice it all the time, applying fanciful names to people is more difficult than naming your toaster. I’m in the market for a new toaster, and I think I’ll name it Manuel. I want to imagine that when the toast pops, it will sound like Andrew Sachs. Then I’ll use a clean spoon to apply something to the toast. There is irony here. That’s why it’s easy to name- I can associate the appliance with other meaning.

The problem with applying fanciful names to people is that you need to avoid that irony. Any associated meaning could damage the anonymity of your client. You certainly don’t want to use a name which is culturally insensitive just because it reminds you of the person. Names that belittle or condescend are out too. Even worse is a name that is so close to actual that it gives away the identity of the person you’re trying to protect. All of these examples contain irony that could blow out of your personal space and into the all-too-public.

So here’s my question: what do you do to avoid irony when applying pseudonyms? Please post suggestions and strategies in comments.

New Beginnings

I’ve recently started a new career in disability employment services, and I want to engage with it in a creative form. I’ll be writing about the work I do and offering insights into how to do it better. I also hope to build a network of interested people who can share and develop ideas about how to help people with disabilities meet employment expectations.


What I’m hoping to offer here is a discussion of the ideas behind disability employment services. I’m interested in the philosophy behind the cases, not the administration of the service. Anyone who is in this industry feels the weight of bureaucracy every day. This will be a space for positive ideas, not complaints about the system.


I mostly manage children with disabilities, so what I can and can’t talk about is heavily (and rightly) policed. Don’t expect to see fine details of cases here, and please don’t ask for them. I welcome any comments and discussion, but ask that you self-moderate or face the banhammer.


Some of the questions I’m hoping to cover are:

  •             How and why did our notions of disability form?
  •             How can emerging technology be used to enable the disabled?
  •             What is the idea of employment all about?
  •             What expectations do we place on disabled jobseekers, and why?
  •             What expectations do disabled jobseekers place on us?


I’ll try to come from both an academic and popular perspective, and where possible, offer real examples from my experiences. I invite you to do the same, remembering that this is in the public domain, and there are some things that don’t belong here. Please include any suggestions for what you’d like to see discussed in the comments below.