Five minutes with Leigh Jacobson, Train Guard, Transport for NSW

Published 29 November 2022

Leigh Jacobson is a Train Guard at Transport for NSW. Leigh has a learning disability and attention deficit disorder.

Leigh features in a newly launched video which is part of ADNSW’s Workplace Adjustments Series. In Episode 2: Workplace adjustments for people with invisible disabilities, Leigh and other Transport for NSW staff and managers tell personal stories and highlight the importance of workplace adjustments.

We spoke with Leigh to learn more about his journey and the importance of workplace adjustments.

Leigh looking at camera smiling. Wearing Transport NSW uniform sitting in front of orange background

Can you tell us about yourself and your disability?

I grew up in Tassie and was there until I was about 25. Growing up, I knew I had to study a lot harder than other kids to get through school, but to be honest, I didn’t think that much about it.

In my mid-20s, I moved to Sydney and got a job at the steel mill in Rooty Hill. Again, I knew there was something different about me – it would take me longer to learn things – but I couldn’t pinpoint the issue at the time.

After I had worked at the mill for 10 years, I wanted a change, so I enrolled in a TAFE pre-apprenticeship course for electrical trades. It was my TAFE teacher who picked up that I had learning difficulties and recommended that I see the disability support team.  After doing some tests, the psychologist identified that I had a learning disability and attention deficit disorder, and from that point on, I was able to get adjustments for my TAFE course – like a ‘reader’ who could rephrase exam questions if I didn’t understand.

I started work at Sydney Trains in 2008 as a train guard. At the time I didn’t disclose my disability as I was scared it might be a career limiting move. For people who have a disability or something different about them, that’s a normal way of thinking.

Whilst working as a train guard, I would see apprenticeships advertised for electrical fitters (substations), but it was extremely competitive to get in. Every year, for five years, I applied, but had no luck. In my sixth year, I saw a pre-apprenticeship course specifically for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) employees. I wrote to the CEO and asked if the course could be extended to people with disability. He put me onto the diversity team, and they explained that entry would still be based on merit, but I would be eligible for adjustments if I could provide evidence of my disability. 

Following the course, 17 people sat the test and seven people – including me – met the requirements. I disclosed my disability to my apprenticeship manager, but I did not share this information with my colleagues. In hindsight, that was a mistake. If I had been more open, I would have had the help and support of my colleagues.  

I finished my apprenticeship in 2015, but as I didn’t secure a full-time job as an electrical fitter (substations), I went back to being a train guard.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I'm into martial arts. I’ve been doing Hapkido for a long time and plan on doing a masters seminar in Korea next year.

I’ve also started a health regime and have been working out at home.

Spending time with my family is something that I love. I have a son who is 19 and we like to watch UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) together – it’s how we bond!

What workplace adjustments do you need?

I need extra time to do things – especially if it’s a classroom-based activity – and I need to go over information a few times to solidify it. 

If I’m on the job, I’m fine with simple tasks. But if it's complicated or technical, I will need to be shown a few times. I also need repetition, and I like the opportunity to learn by doing. 

I find flow charts are helpful when I’m first learning. 

What support or networks are available to employees with disability at Transport for NSW? 

Transport for NSW has the Enabled Network – a support network for people with disability as well as carers. 

The Enabled Network offers a safe space where people can share information and vent if they need to. We often talk with senior leaders about how we can make Transport for NSW a better place to work for people with disability and we get the opportunity to help change and formulate policy. 

Transport for NSW also participates in the Public Service Commission’s Tailored Talent program, which brings neurodiverse and autistic talent into government. Since 2020, 16 candidates from the Tailored Talent program have joined Transport.

Transport will soon be introducing a Workplace Adjustment Passport, which is a document that records your agreed workplace adjustments. This will make it so much easier for people when they change jobs or get a new manager; they won’t need to explain their story or go through the workplace adjustment process again. 

How did you become involved in the Workplace Adjustments Series – and what was it like being filmed at SBS studios?

Jack Crane, our Inclusion & Diversity Manager, came to an Enabled Network meeting and asked if anyone wanted to be involved in Anti-Discrimination NSW’s Workplace Adjustments Series. I put my hand up as I wanted to share my experience and encourage people who need adjustments, to ask. 

I really enjoyed being filmed. The SBS staff were friendly, and we were able to take our time with the questions. I felt safe and free to speak my mind. They even put make-up on me – I felt like a movie star!

What is your advice to people with disability who need workplace adjustments?

Go through your agency’s workplace adjustments policy so you know the process. 

If you have enough courage, go to your line manager and let them know that you need to have a workplace adjustments conversation with them and your HR business partner. 

You just need to tell them what you need – it’s that simple. I know it can seem scary at first but if you read the policy, you will see that the process is pretty straightforward.

Remember, if you need help – seek it. I really wish I’d done it sooner in my career.

What is your advice to employers and managers? 

If someone comes to you seeking a workplace adjustment, you should:

  1. Go through your workplace adjustment policy to find out what you need to do.
  2. Do your research on the disability that person has. 
  3. Treat the employee with the respect they deserve.

Most people who disclose their disability have been thinking about this for months or years. They are being very courageous, and they need to be supported.

Most adjustments have little or no cost, but they make a massive difference to the person with disability. If the adjustment wasn’t provided, they wouldn’t be able to do their job – and that’s their career gone.

Lastly, people with disability don’t just deserve a job; they deserve a good job. Like everyone, people with disability have career aspirations. Managers need to have those conversations and support staff with disability to move ahead.  

Episode 2: Workplace adjustments for people with invisible disabilities

Last updated:

30 Nov 2022

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