The day my world changed

A short piece written as the basis for a story in a 10×9 event timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 events in the US. The event was cancelled due to lack of interest, unfortunately, so I share this here.

The Day My World Changed

Brian Matthews, 7/9/21

I remember the scene well, 50 years ago. Walking into my parent’s lounge room on a visit, Dad in his favourite reclining chair, reaching for a scrap of paper, asking if I’d ever thought about working in disability. The piece of paper handed over, a name and a phone number leading to a cascade of events.

Dad told the tale. Having a few beers in a pub across town, complaining to a well dressed fellow next to him about his concerns for his university drop-out son, no prospects, no skills, a good work ethic (instilled by him and Mum) but only labouring jobs in his future, and he was soon to marry. His sounding board listened patiently and then said “Well, I work in the administration of a new Centre built for people with disabilities and I know they are looking for nursing staff”, proceeded to write the details on a piece of paper then, of course, they talked of other things, probably football I should think.

I remember, after leaving, thinking about this option and wondering what it meant, discussing it with my fiancée who was as clueless as me, not knowing then how this would affect her as well. The phone call was made within a few days, an interview and psychological testing to follow and in early March 1972 (the 10th or the 14th, I can’t remember) I walked into a unit for people with multiple disabilities and events rolled on.

In short, I took to disability work like a duck to water and my, by then, wife soon followed me. Though we parted 25 years later, both she and I had long careers in the disability field. My career was lengthy and diverse, starting as a student ‘Mental Deficiency Nurse’, completing my nursing certificate, becoming fascinated by the newly developing intensive training methods, undertaking and completing an Honours Degree in Psychology at Flinders University where I was appalled to find so little disability and mental health content, working in Queensland developing disability services in regional areas, working in Autism in South Australia and developing services when the condition was poorly understood, then back to intellectual disability, returning to work in the Centre where I started my career but this time in a senior training role, lecturing and completing a PhD in Psychology at Flinders University, developing University level courses in Disability, Developmental Education and Mental Health, and ultimately heading up the Disability and Community Inclusion Unit before my retirement in early 2013.

While I could tell many tales about a lengthy career including setting up and running a cutting-edge disability service with my second wife before our retirement, it all came back to that day that changed my life. That conversation in a pub between my Dad and a stranger, those scribbled details on a scrap of paper that disappeared so long ago……

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