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No barriers in sight for Shane

Shane Haskell and France Aziz are passionate about helping people find employment. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Hayley Gastmeier

Shane Haskell’s life has been all about breaking down barriers – for himself, and now for others.

At age 17 he became legally blind with a genetic condition, Leber hereditary optic neuropathy.

Despite being encouraged to give up the riskier activities that teenagers enjoy, Shane refused to let the disability hold him back.

He kept riding his bike, playing golf, and the now 48-year-old only gave up playing rugby two years ago.

Shane’s experience has given him a unique perspective which he now uses to help and inspire other people.

He has taken on the role as Wairarapa’s supported employment consultant for Community Connections, based in Masterton, Shane’s hometown.

Community Connections – Te Hapori Awhina Tangata supports people who have a disability in many ways so they can live as independently as possible.

Shane’s specific focus with the organisation is helping people into work.

“We support people in job searching, work experience, applying for jobs and the interview process.

“When people gain work they feel happier and valued in the community.

“We also support employers with disability awareness.”

Shane, a father of three, said the service was aimed at anyone with a disability or barrier in their lives.

“So, it could be a person with anxiety or depression or affected by mental health, through to someone in a wheelchair or who suffered an accident.

“Anyone with a barrier may get left at the back of the line among job seekers and I think everyone has a right to be included.”

Community Connections service manager France Aziz said everyone deserved to be recognised for what they could offer to society.

“Everyone has something to contribute. It’s about valuing people and making sure they get equal opportunities.”

Shane said he was a case in point.

“I have limited eyesight, but I still have something to offer.”

And he chooses to focus on the positives.

“I may not have been so accepting of people without living with a disability myself – it’s made me a better person.”

Personal experience led Shane on the path he is on today.

“I saw my mum go through her struggles and face challenges and helped her with that and later on I developed the same hereditary condition myself.

“I saw mum almost give up and become isolated and from that, once my eyesight went, I thought ‘I’m not going to let it beat me’.”

Shane said he knew there was “no magical cure” that was going to bring his eyesight back and he came to terms with the fact that his life would be different from what it was before.

“Then I got back on the bike and got back into the things I enjoyed.”

He said he wanted to achieve things and prove that he could complete things that others didn’t think would be possible for a visually impaired person.

Shane went on to qualify as a baker through an apprenticeship with support from the Blind Foundation which provided him with enabling equipment, and he completed an Outward Bound course with other people who had varying degrees of blindness.

In Shane’s case, he can still see shapes and colours and describes his vision “like looking through foggy glass but it never clears”.

He enjoys gardening and fishing and spending time with his family, and he only gave up rugby because he had to after heart surgery.

Shane said he decided to become “a mentor to others and help them overcome their barriers” as a result of having had a mentor himself – someone else who had limited eyesight.

He said his optimistic outlook helped promote confidence in the people he supported, and employment made a positive difference in their lives.

“It makes them so much happier. They interact better with people, they’re better able to socialise and they become more involved in the community.

“And of course, being employed means they can work towards their financial goals.”

France said it was about helping people find “purpose” in their lives.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or struggle with mental health – it’s having a drive, having whanau and having friends that really matter.”

  • To find out more visit Community Connections website, www.ccslt.org.nz, or email Shane at [email protected].

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