Speaker 0 00:06 Hello and welcome to choice and control a podcast celebrating the contribution that people with disabilities make to our communities. In this series we are talking all things disability, social inclusion, and the national disability insurance game. Throughout this series, you will also be hearing some great practical advice for making the most of your NDA S plan from local people accessing the scheme. This podcast series is brought to you by the team at carers Queensland NDRs local area coordination partner in the community. I'm your host Douglas Connor. Thank you for tuning in. Joining us today is George Arcand store, the owner of gardening, a difference, a Brisbane based gardening company who provide ongoing employment opportunities for young people on the autism spectrum as well as people with a range of mental health issues. George started his business in 2016 as a way of providing a job for his older brother, Harry, who has autism. Since then, George has hired a total of 15 employees, 12 of which are on the autism spectrum or living with a mental health issue. Today I chat to George about his business, the benefits of inclusive employment and his passion for building stronger communities. Well, firstly, George, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today.
Speaker 2 01:18 Yeah, thank you very much for having me.
Speaker 0 01:20 George, you were a personal trainer before starting gardening a difference in 2016. Can you tell us what led to that change in career direction?
Speaker 2 01:28 Yeah, well, um, I actually thought that I would continue being a personal trainer and that was sort of the career choice at night. I really enjoyed it. Um, and it was also a pretty good precursor to doing what I'm doing now because I let a lot of leadership skills and that sort of stopped doing, um, doing that sort of career. But, um, at the time my brother Harry had sort of been in and out of work. He'd had two jobs and neither one of them really, uh, lasted very long unfortunately. And, um, we'd already, we'd always done gardening the dad around the house. And so we thought that, uh, you know, I'd offer it to a client and they said, Oh yeah, look, we talked to, and then we did a couple more or more and then sort of after six months, so it was, uh, doing one week of gardening <inaudible> and then it kept growing and growing. And then we had a nother individual that, um, uh, heard about what we were doing and what I was doing with Harry that wanted to have a go and sort of the idea of what I wanted to do with the business and where I wanted to take it was growing. And, um, yeah, so we kept moving on from that.
Speaker 0 02:35 Very good. So since starting the business, and aside from your brother Harry, you've employed a number of people on the autism spectrum as well as young people living with a range of mental health issues. Can you tell us how you've worked towards creating a workplace inclusive of people with disabilities?
Speaker 2 02:51 Look, it starts a lot from the fact that I want to, um, and I think when you're willing and you have that drive, that becomes a lot easier. Um, because of that sort of brazen, I spend a lot of time educating myself about, uh, autism spectrum disorder range, uh, and mostly depression, but a variety of other mental illnesses as well. And from that understanding, just if that was the very base level, when you have an individual common work view, straightaway you are 110% more equipped to, to work with that individual because you have that insight and understanding. Um, on top of that from there. Um, for the people on the autism spectrum, it was about implementing little strategies. So it's a more complex situations. And so for example, um, uh, people on the autism process information in a different way than your typical individuals do.
Speaker 2 03:50 Um, because of this, it results in, uh, you know, can be, uh, audio frequencies that are rapidly change. It can be distressing, uh, overly bright lights and fluorescent lights can be, uh, things as well, generally overstimulation, um, all of the senses. And so one thing we did was buy all electric equipment and um, and that have the decibel, obviously you think about gardening and obviously it's a really noisy, uh, sorta job. And so a lot of people wouldn't think or for an autistic individual to work as a gardener thought there are solutions that we can put into place. And so the, the electric equipment was bought as always for years. Um, you know, noise canceling headphones if I need them as well. It's back to that understanding. If, if I know an individual has, um, uh, difficulty to somewhere I can change the work, I can put them outside of the broadest times of the day. It's from that understanding that you can create the solutions. And so I think it comes from the understanding and the understanding comes from the, the will to want to have a go at solving a problem. And the problem I wanted to solve was, was this was individuals with disabilities working within workplaces.
Speaker 0 05:06 So aside from the ongoing employment opportunities that you provide to young people with disability, you also offer training and personal development opportunities to your staff. Can you tell us a little bit about what is on offer?
Speaker 2 05:18 Yeah, absolutely. And so, um, with the program, we offer it, uh, outside of work as well as a little bit inside of work. But the idea is that we want to help create the, build these individuals into, um, you know, better individuals to help them to grow. And, and when they finished working with us, we offer a six to 12 months employment and, and sometimes longer if I need it to help them to be more employable when they go out, out to their next opportunity. And so we do that in a way that, um, I guess in a way it has nothing to do with the fact that the individuals that are the autism spectrum, um, it has to do with what we're doing helps people to grow. And, and so we went and I, I, I know a little bit about psychology, but I went and consulted a psychologist and we built a program that was based on three core stages.
Speaker 2 06:13 And these are, um, um, step stages. So you start with bond and if you get out really good, then the next one becomes easier and better and that challenge the next. And so the first stage is physiology. And so your physiology is by dot strains within your body and to keep them, get them running really well through things like meditation and exercise and nutrition. Then your psychology works really well. We're all a black set of which is the second stage. And so we work on things like linking out with a psychologist, the costume, Cole when they need to. We work on personal development in the way that it's, the more you understand about something and the more your confidence builds, the better your psychology becomes and the better your psychology. And moving onto the next step is community. And I think this is the most fundamental part of our programs is linking these guys up with sceneries where they're able to meet individuals and things, similar circumstances to themselves as well as in their community where they're able to give back to society. Cause I think that's a really fulfilling thing as well. And so we work through these programs and I link up with the potties where we need to. Um, with all the, we said, you know, you were talking about I was a personal trainer before, so I can do some training, we can do meditation before work, but where we need to link up with third parties where I'm sorta out skilled and not able to, to um, um, uh, be able to contribute in these areas.
Speaker 0 07:35 That's awesome. It's, so community and building communities is obviously a massive focus for gardening a difference as an organization. How important a factor is that connection to community for some of the young people you work with?
Speaker 2 07:49 I think maybe the most important thing, I think not just for them, but um, um, society, the Hollins and particularly Western society as a whole. I think, um, you know, isolation for individuals on the autism spectrum is really high. Isolation for people with mental illness is one of the first stages in the Dalit cycle that is mental health. Uh, and when it starts to decline, when you regret the way from your communities and you regret the from your friendship group or request the wife and your support networks. Um, I read a really interesting book, um, it was couple of years ago now, but it was called the geography of thought. And it talks about the differences between the Eastern and Western cultures and, and the primary distance difference that site that he sorta looked upon was that the West tended from Greek society, uh, on, with tenants in and saying.
Speaker 2 08:41 So we develop things like, uh, science and we developed the, the, uh, individual individualistic, um, uh, society that we have, which has worked really well for business, uh, especially in the early days of Western society. But now things that, um, the more problems created where whereas the West looked out, uh, the East tended to look out and they actually, because of this discovered that the moon effected the tides. And that's why the tops were coming in and out, uh, hundreds of years before the West if it did. And they also developed more, um, um, complex societal structures and community groups. And I think if you go to any country now, you notice these really strong family communities and lodge community and, um, you know, that there's such strength in that. And I think the, the West, um, declining community involvement is a huge issue and I think it has a lot to do with why we're seeing, um, rising numbers of, of mental health as well as rising numbers of, uh, mental health issues and rising numbers of suicide is because we, we don't have the Thai kids, new communities anymore and, and people don't have those support networks, you know, human beings, uh, group animals, women meant to be with other people, you know, that's, that's where you thrive and I think we need to really, um, um, go back to that, will proceed with caution.
Speaker 0 10:05 George, after a couple of years running the business, you've now got a great deal of experience in working with and employing people on the autism spectrum as well as with a range of other disabilities. What advice would you give to other employers considering hiring someone with a disability?
Speaker 2 10:20 Give it a go. Like, it's easy, I'd say for us. Um, even if you're not considering, get educated, stop understanding about these things. Because when the opportunity arises, if you have that education, you're going to be willing to take the opportunity and you're going to be able to unlock the potential of these individuals. Whereas if you're not understanding what's going on when you're face to face with an individual, it can be quite daunting. Definitely. Anything we don't understand can be quite daunting and can be on, on settling in and you don't know what to do and therefore, yeah, you know, your, your fifth feel like it's going to be hurdles to go forward. But if you understand what's going on, then you're going to be willing to take that opportunity. When you do that, you realize that these, these individuals, they're not autistic individuals. You know that Harry and lucky in the sand, you know, the people with this thing, they're not this thing with a person and you get to meet those people and they're such fantastic people.
Speaker 2 11:18 And you know, when you're able to utilize the strengths and hone in on of the strengths of these individuals, it's really unbelievable. Um, what you can achieve. I think that gardening a difference is probably the most attention detailed gardening service in Brisbane, Queensland and maybe Australia. That's because I've been able to figure out, I'm not able to figure out, even just be able to look and say, Hey, these guys are really good at that. I'm going to focus on that. You know, I'm going to make that our thing. You know? And, and when you're able to overcome those, uh, not as, not as a, the whole POS, the face value and have that understanding. Dan, you really, um, you really open up your opportunity to utilize these individuals within your workplace, but you're also give these guys a chance that they've been looking for and they deserve.
Speaker 0 12:14 That's a great perspective, George. All too often we hear about the potential barriers or challenges when it comes to employing people with disabilities, but it's not often enough that we hear about the potential value add the benefits for the business, both from a cultural and an economic standpoint.
Speaker 2 12:30 Yeah. And if you look at organize, I think that's what an article a few months ago about IBM had hunting individuals on the autism spectrum. Um, uh, because of the logical thinking, I went to a conference in Singapore, um, uh, earlier this year and, uh, there was a sacred, he talked about how the detailed focused mind of an autistic individual is the type of mind that you want doing bolts or something on an airplane. You want someone that's kind of to the millimeter rod. You don't want someone that's going to go off and be like, yeah, that's about right. You want that detail. And you know, that can be really great in certain um, um, Korea pop and a lot of creative. Suddenly there are challenges, you know, there are hurdles and that they're all places that it's going to be more difficult and fit each individual where that's going to be. That's going to vary thought anyone neuro-typical on your device needs to focus on that skill. It doesn't matter who you are. And, and so I think it's just about these individuals doing the same thing and helping them to do something.
Speaker 0 13:32 Yeah, that's great advice, George. So obviously it's been a huge journey for you personally in a big journey as well for your business. What are the biggest lessons you've learned?
Speaker 2 13:42 Yeah, um, it's quite, it's quite interesting when I thought a God made a difference, I guess. First I wanted that to help Harry and um, and then I wanted to help more individuals in his situation and, and then, um, I realized pretty quickly that it's difficult to help through a business unless I'm running a really good business. Uh, I had to sort of take a step back and organize my business and create the operational systems and create the structures. And then I realized that it's really hard to run a really good business unless you yourself is running at 110%. And so I had to take a step back again and look at my own life and work on my functionality and then the next three steps back with the same three steps that I work on with the guys. It was community back to psychology and then back to physiology, getting all those things right. You know, and it was part lucky actually that I started docking a difference because it led to me learning a lot more about myself and suddenly developing myself, um, more than I could have ever imagined that I would, um, by the stage of my life.
Speaker 0 14:51 And George, you've based
Speaker 2 14:52 a lot of your work with guarding a different surround four pillars would you say are action, awareness, charity and inspiration. Can you tell us about how these pillars influence the everyday work of guarding a difference? Yeah, absolutely. So, um, the idea of the pillars is that any organization can use these pillars in combination with something that they would, they believe that they'd like to change within society. Um, and so the thing that, uh, we wanted to change was, um, the employment of cherry for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and individuals facing challenges with mental health. And we did that and we take that and then we use the three pillars. So the first pillar action, the action we took is we started employing these individuals. Um, the action <inaudible> might be completely different in it in a complete different paradigm. But the action we wanted to type was on the ground.
Speaker 2 15:47 Let's start employing these individual. So the next one was originally awareness, but then I changed it to education because I think education is powerful and we spoke a little bit more about that earlier. And so I share a lot of educational things on, um, on our social networks. Um, and, and, um, I'm doing my best. I listened to a lot of audio books. I think it's, the more I'm educated, um, in these fields, the more I'm able to help. And I think if I'm able to, um, check on it, that education that it makes, break down those barriers. When you're, the person that I'm talking to then is, um, placed in a situation where that, um, face to face with an autistic individual, then they don't have the understanding to give them the opportunity that they might be able to give. Um, the next one is charity.
Speaker 2 16:37 And so, uh, we, we do a lot of charitable stuff. I think charity should be at the heart of any business and at the heart of any individual and household. Actually. Um, uh, I, uh, I believe in the, you know, like calmer and giving back and all of that. And I think, you know, I've been so fortunate, um, uh, in running my business and I think that's because I've gone out and tried to do a good thing. And, and so, uh, things, things really, really go my way and I get lucky breaks running a business a lot easier that I've decided to do the right thing and do the good thing because it counts. It does come back. And so it's the things, the way we decided to be charitable. It's just here and there. And so, um, say right now with coded 19, um, um, any of our clients that have been put out of work, um, or businesses that have had to shut down, we're doing their yachts for free and we're going to keep doing that for freight until they're back on their feet.
Speaker 2 17:30 You know, they've supported us by being our clients already. We'll support them through this difficult time. Um, pride about, um, man bought a bike, one of my employees run the bris Brisbane. Robyn raising money for, um, beyond blue. When we first started throughout our first year, we don't have the 20% of every dollar we made, uh, to autism Queensland and then beyond blue, uh, and without another number of other, um, charity sorta things. The last one I think is, is probably the most fundamental and the most important. So it's inspiration and, and this is sorta because like, and that's why I sort of jumped on the opportunity to do the podcast. And so because I, I want to spread the idea that, you know, I, I felt like I didn't, I didn't even get no pay because I, I got off to leave school and grade grade 11, and then I went to a new school and I didn't really try and you know, if, if you knew me then, then I was the least likely to do anything like this.
Speaker 2 18:28 Really. I was the very least likely and probably it wasn't even possible, but somehow I pulled it off. The end of the reasons I pull it off is because I wanted to and, and I just kept trying and going and going and going. And then, and now here I am so many years later and suddenly I'm not at the end of my journey yet. I've got a long way to go and I put a lot of energy left. Um, but say if I, I work six days a week, 12 to 12 hours a day for the next 50 years, then in that time I might create, call it 100 points of different, one different, whatever that means. Um, but if I can, um, speak to individuals and, and, and fire up something and them, and they go, Hey, well if he could do it and he dropped out of high school, then maybe I can have a go at doing something.
Speaker 2 19:19 And, you know, I'm really passionate about changing this thing. And if they go out and do that and they change a hundred points and then another, even if I just inside two people and they go out and create a hundred parts of different page, then forget the a hundred points I did. The most important thing I did in my whole life is inspire those two people because that created more different than what I did, working 12 hours a day, six days a week for 15 years. And so, you know, inspiration and being able to, to, um, um, try and light something inside of people. It's the point of all of this, I think. Yeah.
Speaker 0 19:57 Well that's the beginning of a real social change, isn't it?
Speaker 2 20:01 Yeah, exactly. Right, exactly. And I think actually society as a whole, I think we're moving in a good direction towards, um, businesses being involved and people wanting to be involved in social change, um, in not leaving anyone behind, not letting people drop through the crack crack and, and not letting, um, uh, uh, I guess travesties of justice. So use maybe an overstated word, um, go forward in society.
Speaker 0 20:28 Well, Georgia really has been. Um, it's always refreshing to hear your perspective on these things. It's, it's really awesome to see some of the work that you've been able to do locally here in Brisbane and other field. Um, that's all I have to ask you today, but thank you once again for taking the time to chat with us this afternoon. It's been, that was George and stole a local Brisbane business owner leading the charge for inclusive employment. For more information about Georgia's inclusive gardening business, please visit gardening a difference.com dot a U. Thank you once again for tuning into choice and control carers Queensland podcast. For more information about carers Queensland, the national disability insurance game or the local area coordination program, please connect with us [email protected]
bookatfacebook.com slash carers Queensland Endis. We hope this podcast can become a place for people with disability to share their experiences and their stories. So if you have a story that you think we should know about, please contact us via the carers, cranes, and inquiries [email protected]
iesatndis.gov.edu until next time, thanks for listening.