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Getting paid to work is ‘value-adding’ for people with disabilities

Getting paid to work is ‘value-adding’ for people with disabilities

Published:11 September 2017

CQUni Noosa admin assistant Tessa Howie has recently been selected to represent Team Queensland in Swimming at the 2018 Special Olympics Australia National Games. She is pictured BELOW with Olympic legend Dawn Fraser.

Everyone feels valued when employed. That’s according to CQUniversity Nursing lecturer Virginia Howie, who knows all too well the impact a job can have on someone with a disability.

Virginia’s daughter Tessa, who has an intellectual disability, has been employed as an administration assistant on the Noosa campus for the past three years.

“Like everyone, people with disabilities feel valued when employed, which improves self-esteem, self-confidence and therefore, overall health and wellbeing,” Virginia explains.

“Staff at the campus are amazingly inclusive, patient and understanding across the board.

“Tessa is made to feel part of the team, and therefore she feels valued.

“As a mum I feel extremely proud of Tessa, especially when I see her building her independence, picking up new skills and contributing to our campus and the experience of our students.”

Tessa works three days per week, for three hours a day, and is supported by Epic Assist employment agency, an organisation that assists people with disability prepare for and find meaningful employment.

“I like working at CQUniversity because everybody is nice to me, no-one is a bully to me,” says Tessa.

“I like my job because it keeps me busy and I get paid to work, which makes me feel good.”

Working as an administration assistant, Tessa’s role involves collecting and delivering mail, shredding, laminating documents, restocking the tea and coffee in the student lounge and running errands for people. She also assists others in their day-to-day roles and helps in the nursing labs when asked.

“Helping others to do their jobs and saving their time at work makes me feel good.”

Tessa’s position at the University is also great news for both mother and daughter. “As I work full-time, and we live apart, it is wonderful to have my daughter working alongside me. It gives me the opportunity to be in touch more often,” explains Virginia.

Virginia believes people with disabilities can contribute to workplaces in a number of ways.

“Evidence suggests that people with disabilities are less likely to take sick leave, and more likely to be punctual because they value their jobs.

“Those with intellectual disabilities can contribute by performing important day-to-day duties that might otherwise be missed in a busy workplace environment.

“Finally, people with disabilities improve the workplace by adding diversity, which in turn, improves workplace culture and teaches other employees about the importance of inclusivity.”

As well as working at CQUniversity, Tessa is also a champion swimmer and has just been selected to represent Team Queensland in swimming at the 2018 Special Olympics Australia National Games to be held in Adelaide next April.

Tessa is one of only 240 athletes selected for the Queensland team, and is looking forward to training and competing in freestyle and backstroke, as well as a team relay event.

Special Olympics Australia (SOA) is part of a global sporting community for people with an intellectual disability. Athletes are selected for their dedication to training and competition.

Tessa trains three days per week at Cooroy under the guidance of Andrew Cowan, an elite athlete in his own right.

Tessa has achieved success previously, representing Queensland in the National Games in Melbourne in 2014. She has also represented Australia in the inaugural Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle in 2014, bringing home gold in the 100m freestyle.

Another benefit of working at CQUniversity was when Tessa got to meet Olympic legend Dawn Fraser.

“Dawn goes to the coffee shop at work and the girls in the shop introduced us. Dawn offered to have her photo taken with me to help raise funds for the competition.

“Dawn always asks to see my medals when I return from competition.”

Dawn Fraser is a fan of Tessa’s and has kindly donated a signed copy of her biography ‘What I learned along the Way’, which will be auctioned as part of Tessa’s fundraising activities for Adelaide.

Tessa is busy raising funds for the $3400 Athlete Levy. A fundraising page specifically for Tessa has been set up. To donate go to:, click on the 'donate to athlete button', type in 'Tessa Howie' and click search, and then click on 'Tessa Howie'.

This week CQUniversity is celebrating Disability Action Week, 10 – 16 September, and is promoting this year’s theme ‘Everybody has a role to play’.