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Part 1 of this blog, is where I talk about my motivation for applying to Access to Work and what the application form entailed. In this second part, I cover the queries that came up and what it’s actually like having someone working for you.

As mentioned in the first part of this blog, the overall application process took around four months. This was certainly stressful, but also difficult because I’d recruited a support worker to work for me, and I wasn’t able to tell them when they’d be able to start. I was worried that they’d lose patience and look for another job.

Communication with Access to Work was hard, as they always wanted to phone me, even though I’d stipulated that as a reasonable adjustment, I preferred email.

This meant that I nearly had my application cancelled, because I kept missing their calls.

I personally hate phone calls and therefore never pick up any calls. To make matters worse, they would appear to not know their own rules very well, for instance I was told that “Access to work can provide support for customers for 20% of their hours per week”, yet this rule applies to job aides and not support workers. This was exceptionally stressful, as someone who doesn’t know their rules well, I didn’t understand that they had mixed up the type of support that I was requesting. Luckily, Disability Arts Online (DAO), the charity supporting me with my application, knew this straight away and were able to draft a response for me to send to them. I can’t say it was the most supportive process to go through.

It makes me appreciate why people don’t apply to the grant. Or why many people perhaps get refused it, or are told they aren’t eligible for what they are entitled to – but they don’t know it.

I did receive the funding in the end, and for that I am so very grateful. A tip I have is to ask for the hours to be used flexibly across the year. This is helpful as you can use more hours in one month compared with another, so long as you don’t go over your overall year’s budget in allocated hours. This is useful if you need to take time off if you’re not well. Another factor to be aware of is that you’ll need to assume delays in your support worker being paid, and this is something I communicated to my support worker before I officially took them on. At present, it’s been more than a month since my support worker sent off her first claim and is yet to be paid. She should have been paid within a month, and I feel this will need chasing, which is never a pretty task. Fortunately, I know I can get my support worker to do this as part of her role, but it’s also not the most ideal scenario.

I don’t want my support worker to be using her time to support me spent instead on chasing her pay.

The phone lines are always so busy and the wait times long. And this can be frustrating, as you obviously want those working for you to be paid in a timely manner, and to even consider following this up. I’ve heard from DAO that forms can get lost or misdirected to the wrong place. They’ve heard these stories a fair bit. So this is certainly something to bear in mind. I also hope that this is a one-off, but let’s see.

So, those have been the issues that have come up, but what is it actually like having the extra support? I am honestly still getting used to it. It’s incredible to have a 12-month plan and to see how someone can help support me in this and work on all those bits and pieces that I never have time for. As I write this, I’m currently receiving support with revamping my website, setting up an Etsy page for my artwork and having social media content created. It’s also great to be able to strategise and take stock of where you are and wish to be as an artist.

In the past, I’ve often felt like I’m just fire-fighting and treading water with getting the bare basics done, let alone having the foresight to take on the bigger picture. I’m lucky in that my support worker is fabulous; both personally and from a talent-perspective, but it definitely takes time to get everything setup and working ways shared to make things easier.

Also bear in mind that it takes time for the person to get used to you; your work, ways of working and general preferences. It’s a new working relationship, and actually a very personal one given that it’s my art, so letting someone in can take time to get used to. I know it will take me time. I’d suggest having a framework around communicating with your support worker/s, e.g. a weekly meeting and then agreeing to respond to emails the rest of the time. You can also review and adjust this as you go along.

Given the whole process I’ve been through over the last months, I would still wholeheartedly recommend the scheme. It’s definitely going to have a huge impact on my career longer term as an artist, as well as my overall health and wellbeing. And that’s always worth making those changes for. I wish that it were better known as a scheme though. I feel I’m often informing and educating people about it, even career advisors and those generally helping others into work. And I feel that if it really came from the ethos of wanting to support those with a disability, and to increase accessibility into the workplace, then more would be done to highlight the scheme. Its profile feels too low given how it can really help level up one’s ability to perform and access work, and the workplace as a whole. And this diversity is crucial to have, as different voices are represented in the workforce, the richer and more varied the organisation becomes.

As counter intuitive as it may sound, I feel that the government almost needs to setup support in helping those apply for the funding, or to at least train the advisers to know their rules better and make the process an easier one for applicants.

The latter is the biggest piece of feedback I’m receiving – that staff aren’t aware of what their own rules are, and I’ve experienced this directly to the point where I would have only received a small proportion of the support that I requested. And this isn’t fair. I would also like to add here that I am an intelligent and competent person. Really. But despite this, I did find the process stressful and was very dependent on DAO to support me. And surely that shouldn’t be the case?

Should you choose to, I really do wish you all the best in applying for Access to Work. You deserve to have the support to be able to do your job properly. I know that this funding will change my life and I really would like to encourage you to persevere with this. Good luck!

Mahlia Amatina

March 2022