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Disability Practitioner in the Spotlight

Jodie Hoger: Turning obstacles into pathways

Head and shoulder photo of Matt Salas

Where it all began

After nineteen years as a Disability Practitioner, Jodie Hoger is still as passionate as ever about contributing to the lives of students with vision impairment.

Jodie is highly active in creating opportunities and inspiring confidence in the students and staff she works with to achieve the best possible pathways for students.  

Jodie’s ambition at high school was to be a teacher. But when she lost her sight at the age of 16, the Careers Adviser for Visually Handicapped told her:  “Don’t be so stupid, you can’t be a teacher.”

So determined to achieve her dream, Jodie became the first blind student at the University of Wollongong, undertaking a psychology degree. She then went on to establish the University’s disability service, running disability awareness training for staff.

Since then, Jodie has obtained Teaching and Training and Assessment qualifications, and is currently studying a Masters in Special Education.

“I’ve learnt that when people throw obstacles in your pathways – get to the essence of your goal. It’s like peeling back an onion.”

Through her own experiences, Jodie has proven anything is possible. And in the process, she has developed a strong driving principle that guides her work with students with disability.

On her work

Jodie currently supports vision impaired students at TAFE Illawarra – the largest provider of Vocational Education and Training in the region, encompassing 14 campuses across a large geographical area.

A significant aspect of her role is advocating with teachers. She is particularly passionate about the provision of accessible information.

“As more and more course material is available online it’s essential that all students have access to this”, says Jodie.

While there is increasing awareness of the importance of accessible education, Jodie believes more needs to be done and is currently developing an online resource for teachers.

Jodie believes technology has made a significant difference for students, enabling learners to undertake higher level courses with greater confidence and competence.

On technology for her own use, Jodie says she cannot live without it: “My iPhone has been the most liberating thing for me – it is my absolute go-to tool for research, reading magazines, note-taking, emails and more.”

And its obvious Jodie loves her job. 

“I’m helping to change the world, one day at a time.”

An award-winning contributor

Jodie’s passion has been acknowledged by her employer. In 2007, she was awarded the Institute Director’s Staff Award in recognition of her dedication and commitment to pursuing quality education.  

Jodie has also received an Award from Vision Australia for her work in this area.  

Jodie sees her role as an opportunity to lead by example: “I can be visible in the workplace and community – if I can do it, there should be no obstacles too great for other students and employees in the workplace.”

There is more to be done

Jodie believes there is still much to be changed about attitudes towards disability in the community.

“It’s more than just providing the same opportunities; people with disability want to be like everyone else,” she says.

“When that happens, ramps will be everywhere, and all information will be accessible. But for now, people with disability who have a job are still seen as remarkable.”

Jodie says it’s important that Disability Practitioners don’t buy into stereotypes and roadblocks.

“Sometimes others assume the student can’t do something, and sometimes the students themselves believe they can’t do something.

“If a student has earned the right to be accepted into the course, there is a legal and moral responsibility to support them to participate.”

Thinking outside the educational square

When it comes to education, Jodie says it’s about peeling back the onion again and getting to the essence of what is required.

“It’s about investigating options; not always settling for ‘no’ as the answer; and thinking outside the square for solutions.”

There also needs to be respect for the student and a real effort in enabling them to be self-directed and empowered in the process.  An important part of Jodie’s role is to ensure that students are aware of their choices.

Jodie believes that the role should have a higher profile. Disability Practitioners should be highly regarded and respected for their expertise, and be accepted as an absolute integral part of the educational institution.

“We need to be seen not as fringe-dwellers, but as integral cogs on the wheel,” she says.

Linking with industry

Jodie was fortunate to attend the inaugural and the second Pathways Conference, which included representation from universities that didn’t yet have a Disability Adviser.

She found these conferences to have an amazing energy and a sense of breaking new ground. There was also an atmosphere of being creative, finding ways to do things with very little funding.

“I still have this sense of prudence and creativity. If I don’t have the dollars to directly support students I know what I do have is the time, and I use this to support teachers to be more inclusive in their teaching.”

Jodie is keen to attend another Pathways Conference and believes they need to have a stronger TAFE presence.

Driving workplace participation

Jodie knows that education and training are excellent pathways into employment, particularly for students with disability – and for that reason, she is also passionate about increasing participation in the workforce. 

Jodie has set up a Disability Network for Vision Impaired persons in the Shoalhaven district near Nowra in NSW. She’s also about to establish a similar network in the Wollongong area to support people looking for work.

Jodie believes that during a job interview, it’s important for candidates to be upfront with the strategies they would use in the workplace to address their disability. 

“It’s important to not leave any questions or doubts unanswered. This way jobseekers can demonstrate that they can competently do the job, but also show they have additional skills which other jobseekers don’t.”

On the home front  

With all of this, one must wonder if Jodie has time for much else in her busy life.

But she does.

She is a mother, and a proud grandmother of two adorable ‘rat bags’. 

She loves learning, researching and is an avid reader, known for ‘always having her ear in a book’.

Her iPhone also gets used to maintain a strong social media presence. 

And lastly, but by no means least of all, she loves riding through the countryside on a motorcycle with her husband who describes the scenery to her via an intercom.