When 37-year-old Shaun planned a trip to Melbourne to be with his partner, they had hoped to do a range of fun things. The pandemic interrupted their plans, however, with a strict lockdown beginning the day after Shaun’s arrival. Fortunately, prior to his trip, Shaun had connected with Jarrod, an independent support worker who lives in Melbourne, and this made all the difference.
Shaun has been diagnosed with Level 2 Autism, and requires assistance in a variety of areas, particularly with executive function. At home in Brisbane, he receives support for organising his activities, cooking and cleaning, running errands, and participating in a gym program. Knowing he would need similar assistance during his trip to Melbourne, Shaun posted a job on Mable, a website that connects people who need support with independent support workers who provide it. That’s how he met Jarrod.
“The great thing about Mable,” Shaun says, “is that you can meet with a potential independent support worker, either in person or over video chat, before you decide to work with them. I found with other support companies that there’s no transparency, and you get no choice as to who comes to you. With Mable, I was able to find someone who was a really excellent match.”
Shaun says that being able to choose his support worker has been tremendously empowering, because he can choose his support on his own terms.
“I don’t necessarily choose a support worker based on their credentials,” he says. “Most of the people I like best don’t have a lot of training, but if they can support me and make me feel good then that’s more important to me. I felt very relaxed and calm with Jarrod.”
With lockdown in full swing, Shaun says that without his support sessions with Jarrod, he would have felt closed in, watching TV alone all day while his partner (an essential worker) was at work.
“I was pretty well occupied,” Shaun explains. “Jarrod kept me entertained. We played board games together and went outside for various activities every day we had a support session. I felt very safe with him, so we were able to work out in the parks because the gyms were closed. Jarrod was able to show me my whole routine using a Theraband.”
Additionally, Shaun received support around meal preparation.
“My cooking skills are pretty limited to basic foods,” he admits. “With a support worker, I have a much healthier experience all around. I eat better, I get out to exercise and I don’t get bored.”
Shaun recommends planning ahead to get the most out of any trip, though he does require help with packing, compiling an itinerary, and making bookings.
“I’m not really good at doing things in advance,” Shaun says. “Having this support makes things more possible for me.”
When packing, Shaun’s luggage must contain his medications, laptop, mobile phone and associated chargers. Then there are the essential items he considers ‘non-negotiables’. These include his noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds, sunglasses, and eye mask for sleeping.
Melbourne’s lockdown left Shaun with very few options in terms of seeing the sights.
“I was happy, though. I always feel better when I’ve had regular exercise as opposed to when I do nothing,” he explains. “Even though what we did was not Melbourne-specific, we did all my exercises like the Theraband activities, walking and so on in new surroundings for me.”
Asked if he has any advice for others who live with a disability to help them travel without limits, Shaun says that the key is to arrange support at your destination.
“Knowing that we’re going to need support, finding the right supports is really key to making sure we can get what we need, so we can travel without limitations.”
He recommends applying good effort to screening support workers, to ensure they are the right fit.
“Don’t just go by emails or messages,” he says. “Have a video chat so you can get a sense of the other person and they can get a sense of you. With Mable, if you choose not to work with them, that’s perfectly okay. You can then keep searching so you can find the right person.”
Since his ill-fated lockdown trip, Shaun has returned to Melbourne and visited the National Gallery of Victoria and Melbourne Museum, places he had missed the first time around. As well as connecting with Jarrod again, another independent support worker also took him rowing on the Yarra River.
“Melbourne has much more of a big-city vibe than Brisbane does. It’s kind of cool just to go around the city and explore.”
Are you looking forward to an overnight stay, a weekend getaway, or a longer trip away? Find the ideal support worker for you – with matching interests and desirable skills – by searching the profiles on Mable.
This feature appeared first in Travel Without Limits. Subscribe to the magazine here.