WITH disability in their extended family, Daniela and Aaron Matheson understand better than most the challenges involved.
The couple, owners of small business Millennial Timber Products in Cameron Park, are one of many Hunter and Central Coast businesses who have signed up to local disability services provider Castle's Inclusive 100 program. It urges businesses to take a stand against inequality faced by those with a disability and, by December 3, Castle hopes to have 100 firms pledge to be more inclusive in their recruiting.
The Mathesons involvement in the program was a given - they have employed about 20 staff with disabilities in the past eight years through Castle. A manufacturer of timber pallets, crates and other products, the workplace at Millennial Timber is high risk labouring.
"We need to be careful about who we get in, but we are happy to give anyone a go as long as they are willing to do the work and want to better themselves," says Mrs Matheson.
She says employing staff with disabilities can pose challenges, including in communication, but Castle had assisted in the training.
"Not every day is easy but it's about overcoming that," she says.
Four of Millennial Timber's 10 staff have a disability, including Mitch Henry.
Mr Henry, 29, was diagnosed at 12 with Tourette syndrome, a common nervous system disorder often involving repetitive movements or unwanted sounds.
The Lake Macquarie resident, who manages the condition with medication, said while his disability could lead to lack of concentration and distraction, it could also be an advantage when he was "in the zone" and doing repetitive jobs.
While he tried to hide his circumstances from previous bosses and paid the penalty, in his view often unfairly, he is thriving at Millennial Timber and says his confidence has grown.
"They have been fantastic and understanding, I feel a lot more comfortable here because it's not a secret - everything is on the table," he says.
Mrs Matheson says employing a person with disabilities has "opened up the realm of acceptance" in all staff, a reminder that "these people are everyday people with their own personal battles just like all of us."
Among the bigger Hunter employers who have signed up the Inclusive 100 are Lake Macquarie City Council, nib, Hunter Water and The West Group. But there are also smaller firms like Millennial Timber, for whom there are arguably more challenges.
"Our production is usually down because we have people with disabilities and that affects finances, but the overall gratification in everyone lifting each other up is priceless," Mrs Matheson says.