Ten years on, Michael is still willing and able to help at Swinton’s IGA

Michael Kearney has not let an intellectual disability stop him clocking up 10 years’ employment at Swinton’s IGA supermarket, says store manager Brett Maloney (left). Picture: ROB GUNSTONE

MICHAEL Kearney’s 10 years’ work at Swinton’s IGA supermarket has been a learning experience — for himself and his employer.

The Warrnambool supermarket’s manager Brett Maloney said Mr Kearney, 30, had expanded its idea of what people with disabilities were capable of.

Mr Kearney, who has the autism spectrum disorder Asperger syndrome, had exceeded the supermarket’s expectations with his dedication to his work and longevity in the position, Mr Maloney said.

His duties include stacking shelves, cleaning and taking customers’ purchases to their vehicles.

“He has his set jobs and he does them very thoroughly,” Mr Maloney said.

“He responds well to advice.”

Mr Kearney’s helpful nature and outgoing personality had made him “part of the furniture” at the store, Mr Maloney said.

He said staff and regular customers had learnt to be accepting and patient with the enthusiastic and talkative assistant.

Mr Maloney said Mr Kearney’s success had encouraged the store to take on other workers with disabilities for short periods.

Mr Kearney’s employment is managed by Western District Employment Access (WDEA) and a case manager visits him and Swinton’s every fortnight for support.

He works at the Timor Street supermarket three days a week and one day a week at Leahy’s Electrical Services, where he washes vehicles and carries out other cleaning work.

WDEA Warrnambool site manager Chris Quigley said Mr Kearney was a great example of what could be achieved through its disability employment program.

Mr Quigley said WDEA had up to 300 people with disabilities who were looking for work and was always seeking employers willing to offer a supportive work environment, with financial incentives available.

Mr Kearney’s mother, Annmaree Stonehouse, said her son had flourished at Swinton’s, using his prodigious memory to learn new tasks visually rather than through reading.

He loved being among people and had developed good relationships with other staff and regular customers, she said.

He had also progressed to third dan black belt in funakoshi karate with the help of local instructors who had been willing to assess him on a basis that favoured practical demonstrations over written tests.

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