Welcome to our special series celebrating Diversity and Inclusion in MercyCare’s employees, volunteers and service users. Our stories are accompanied by Steve Wise’s remarkable photographs, that show how these ordinary, yet extraordinary, people are individually effecting change for themselves and the people around them. We hope you enjoy their personal stories.
Katalina Lavaka – MercyCare Migrant Community Support Services Administration Officer
Young, vibrant, articulate and a gun on an Excel spreadsheet, Katalina Lavaka struggled to find employment when she began to lose her vision.
“I lost a job when I was going through the deterioration of my eyesight,” Katalina said.
“Honestly, I was so desperate for a new job and I had the determination, but I was just adapting to living without my sight.
“I realised, how am I going to land a job when I’m not confident working with a new disability?
“I would write cover letters online and forward my resume which gained interest from employers, but when I would arrive to the interview, I knew when I couldn’t find the door or find my seat that I was not going to get the job. Out of courtesy, they would interview me anyway, but I knew I didn’t have the job.”
Katalina began to lose her vision at 18 years old due to Retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder causing the cells in the retina to breakdown. Now 27 years old, Katalina has low vision, which has allowed her to see silhouettes and to read text in certain colours on certain backgrounds.
“I still struggle mentally with losing my vision, and it is still deteriorating. I am still struggling to find acceptance and closure within myself. It’s hard because I know what I had before and now I’ve had to relearn everything anew.”
That process covered almost every aspect of her life – from walking with a stick to using gadgets that would enable her to continue working.
She also had to overcome the daily fear and grief losing her vision presented.
“Before my eyesight started deteriorating, I was already an anxious person. When I lost my sight that anxiety was three-fold.
“When I couldn’t find employment, I had to live at home with my parents. It was like being a 16-year-old for three years. Though I appreciate my parents support in my most vulnerable and desperate time, now I live independently and can support myself.
“When I sit in my parents’ lounge facing the front yard, sometimes I daydream and I can remember as a kid looking at snails, snail trails, the tiny details of flowers.”
Katalina was connected to MercyCare through a traineeship. Her competency was quickly rewarded with a permanent position at the Mirrabooka office.
She has used gadgets to aid her at work, including specialised software and a device that allows her to zoom in and out and change colours on screen.
“Getting a job meant everything to me. It gave me a purpose in life, to be able to support myself and feel included with my peers.
“The people I know with a disability are some of the most intelligent people I know. We are eager to be heard, to be recognised and enabled contributors and earners in the workforce.
“I encourage all managers of employers to give people with a disability the opportunity to show what they are capable of. We are capable of the same things as anyone else, we just have to do it a little differently.”
Katalina’s next big goal is to use her writing talent to craft a non-fiction, inspirational novel based on the fascinating and diverse lives of herself and her fiancée.