A MAITLAND mum hopes the online business she has founded with her autistic son will inspire other parents in her position to think big and go out on their own.
Dianne Richardson and her son Zane Richardson-Chasty, 27, began their printing business Peace Warrior shortly after the arrival of the pandemic in March, 2020.
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The first lockdown forced Dianne to put her photography business on hold, as Zane's volunteer job at a local tourism centre ended.
Zane - a bright man with a photographic memory who completed Year 12 and has completed two TAFE diplomas in animal care - has struggled to find work over the years.
"He gets down because no-one wants to give him a go - one place underpaid him, which is insulting," Dianne says, adding that her son communicates well, but stumbles with a few letters so it sometimes requires newcomers a little time to understand his speech pattern.
"He's done a lot of voluntary work and he has a part-time job at present, but it's hard to get an 'in' - as soon as you mention autism, people's voices change."
Forced into lockdown, Dianne found herself looking at some of the drawings that art- and animal-mad Zane had done and thought they would look good as prints on T-shirts.
"Zane is always drawing and I was looking at a charcoal drawing of an emu he did at high school that we framed. And I thought why don't we start a business printing his designs. Why don't we create a job for him and start our own business to make things easier for him," she recalls.
The business name Peace Warrior was chosen because when Dianne looks at her son she sees just that: "He's just over six foot, he's like a gentle giant, and he's a big advocate for inclusion and for those with disabilities."
The pair invested in equipment to design a range of printed T-shirts, sourced ethically, and give 10 per cent of their sales to Sea Shelter, a marine conservation organisation at Port Stephens and Dignity, a charity that helps people who are homeless find a home.
The business is going well: Dianne is looking to expand its product range to include hats, other clothing and greeting cards, and is looking at retail sites in Maitland because her home is cramped by the printing equipment.
She says that she and Zane's skills complement the other and it's been an enjoyable learning process for them both.
"His confidence has grown, he's learning new skills and he is earning a living, I am employing him," she says.
"He's learning about printing, he does all the cleaning jobs with the machines, he's learning about money - he likes getting paid!" she adds with a laugh.
Dianne has seen employers underpay her son so she pays him the award wage that she hopes to increase with time as his skills develop.
Their venture has brought her joy, seeing the pride her son takes in his work.
"I want to see him set up and happy. Whether this is it, or if he finds a way to work in a zoo as he'd like to, I don't know," she says.
Dianne hopes that Zane, who believes in inclusion and stands up to unfairness in support of those he knows with disabilities, can inspire other families like theirs.
"We want to show what's possible. Some people might go, 'Oh, ok, my son or daughter could do that',' she says.
"Each person on the Spectrum is completely different. I have worked with children with disabilities in schools, you can't group them together. They all have superpowers for something, you just have to find it."
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