After breaking his back in a fall, Ben Aldridge was forced to rethink his own ideas around disability. After spending some years working at Forrest Personnel, he has started up his own business. This is his story.
My upbringing was fairly typical – I always enjoyed the outdoors, that was my real love. After high school I began to work as a driller’s off-sider and I met some veterans. I talked to them a lot and I joined the armed services when I was about 20. In 2006, I got sent to East Timor – the military was rebelling against the government and it was our role to go in and help settle the unrest.
My experiences meant I developed post-traumatic stress disorder and when I came back, my instinct to deal with my mental illness in a constructive way was to begin drinking. Of course, I was going to have nightmares, that shit was to be expected and alcohol was an amazing band-aid for that.
One night I was walking home drunk and I stopped to have a wee over the edge of a cliff. I lost my balance and I fell over – it was about 10 metres, or 30 foot. I broke my neck – I’m a quadriplegic. If I am not looking at my legs, then they don’t exist. I feel like a floating head and shoulders.
I always thought of people with a disability as those poor unfortunate souls who remind us how our lives might be. They are the ones we bring out once in a while, give them a pat on the head, tell them well done and then send them back.
Once I began working at Forrest Personnel my thinking began to change. We are all human, we all want safety, we all want love, we all want to be able to contribute. Being able to earn money is so important for a person with a disability – anything given, can be taken, but when you earn your own money, that gives you safety and security. I get so frustrated when people cannot see our potential.
I started my own business, 30 Foot Drop, which is a case study for employing people with a disability. There are four of us and we all have a disability of some sort. Employing people with a disability makes such sense to me. When you have a disability, in order to survive and thrive you need to be innovative and you need to problem solve. You also need to be collaborative – you have to be, just to get stuff done. Companies spend thousands trying to develop this in their staff, yet people living with a disability already have these skills. They just do.
People like to put people with a disability in a box. But disability doesn’t belong there. It’s part of the human condition.
Forrest Personnel supports people with an injury, illness or disability to find and keep jobs.
If you’re a job seeker or an employer – we’d love to work with you.
Send us an email or call us on 1800 224 548.