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In this episode we talk with Charles Brice about the accident that caused him to change his career from a commercial airline pilot to journalism, and what it was like to enter this competitive field as a person with disability.
Charles is a journalist and digital producer for ABC News in Adelaide.
Produced by: Black Me Out Productions
Growing Bold and visibility in employment:
Pete: Welcome to the Grow Bold with Disability Podcast. Brought to you by Feros Care. A podcast dedicated to smashing stereotypes and talking about the things people with disability, care about most, to help us live bolder, healthier,
better-connected lives. I’m journalist Pete Tims,
Tristram: and I’m Tristram Peters. I work for disability service directory, clickability, and I’m a wheelchair user living with spinal muscular atrophy.
Pete: Today’s episode of Grow Bold with Disability is growing bold and employment and inclusivity in the workplace, and our guest is Charles Brice. Now Charles is a journalist working for the ABC and most of you may know him from
the ABC News Breakfast in the Mornings. Is a quadriplegic after a motorbike accident in 2010, and in this episode we’ll hear about Charles’s accident, the diagnosis that he woke up to on that day in 2010. What the diagnosis meant for the young
footballer, motorbike rider and budding commercial pilot, and how a few months spent in the hospital bed led into a new passion and drive. That took into places he’d never thought he’d go. Charles, welcome to Grow Bold with Disability.
Charles: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me
Tristram: So, Charles, let’s start with that fateful day All the way back in May 2010. You just started a new job at a mate’s farm southeast of Adelaide. Tell us what exactly happened on that day.
Charles: Yeah, that’s right. It was a bit of a new venture for me. I went from working for a fruit and veg store in Adelaide to yeah, overnight, having a new job and living in a new place on a farm. And, um, you know, I’ve done
a fair bit of farm work in the past, and I’ve sort of been there about six or seven weeks. And I was going to go for a motor bike ride, one Saturday morning, just before we go to football. Thought it would be sort of be nice, way to make a
few guys that live around the area.
So yeah, it’s funny how, one day in your life and even, you know, 11 years ago, you can remember all the little details of that day, and it just started out as any regular day. And yeah, there are about six of us on the bike ride, probably only
a couple of kilometres from home. Not long after we’d sort of re-bunched and got together. We headed off again and, yeah, not long after that, I came off the motorbike. I lost consciousness, and it sort of came to not look after. And I immediately,
immediately knew something was wrong. You know, I had plenty of motorbike accidents, in my 19 years before that, but this one felt a little bit different. I sort of knew that yeah, might have been a little bit more serious. So I grew up not
knowing what a spinal cord injury was. So also lying face up in the dirt, you know, fighting for every breath of air and then not being able to move a muscle to, I couldn’t grab the phone that was in my pocket to call for help. I was just
sucked there, just waiting and not knowing exactly what I’ve done to myself not knowing why I couldn’t move, there was just so many unknowns. I guess that was probably part of the scary bit. While I was waiting for someone to come and find
Pete: Now mate you know, motorbikes. Like I was reading up, that you’ve been riding bikes since the age of four. So, what went wrong that day?
Charles: As I said I had plenty of bigger stacks on a bike then I did this day, and I had got up and walked away from every single one of them beforehand. Had never broken a bone before this day. Yeah. I can’t tell you what went
wrong on that day. It was just mate, yeah, it’s called an accident for a reason. It’s just one of those wrong place at the wrong time, falling, landing on the wrong angle. I wasn’t going flat out. I wasn’t mucking around and being a dickhead.
I was actually at the back of the pack, so I was literally just really looking forward to getting home and putting the footy boots on. I’m playing a game, but yeah, that wasn’t to be.
Tristram: Yeah, so I mean, an incredibly difficult day for you when you’re lying there waiting for your mates. What was going through your mind? You knew something had gone wrong, but you hadn’t grasped what exactly had happened.
What races through the mind at that point in time?
Charles: A lot went through my mind while I there waiting. I remember just trying to figure out exactly what had gone wrong and why I couldn’t move anything. I thought maybe I had just broke my legs, and I was in so much shock
that I couldn’t move. Yeah as I said, I had no idea what a spinal cord injury was. It didn’t even occur to me that I broke my neck. I mean, the thing is it wasn’t all that painful as well. I mean, the only physical feeling that I had was,
like a little bit of discomfort in my neck, but it was kind of just as if you had a bad sleep on a bad pillow or what have you. You know, if you told me before that day that [I had] a broken neck and wouldn’t be paying football I would have
probably laughed at you. But I mean, the beauty of breaking your neck is you can’t feel anything so getting through that part, it wasn’t too bad.
Pete: It’s the 24 hours later, you then you discover that you’ve shattered two vertebrae in your neck and completely severed your spinal cord, and the doctors told you’d never walk again. That would be quadriplegic for the
rest of your life. Tell us about the moment. You hear that news? Where does that sort of news sort of take a person in their mind?
Charles: Well, this time I was quite sedated, but I do distinctly remember being told by one of the doctors. She said that there would be a 5% chance of ever walking again, really. But by that stage, like, you know. You know that
it’s basically all over, and yeah, I think that was part like that moment when I was told, there was so much denial, going through my mind. And I guess I probably knew but, I didn’t want it to be reality, because yeah, I was 19 years old and
I was, fit, healthy, active. You name it. And I guess, like every other male 19 year old, that’s young and dumb you probably feel quite invincible, really. So, for something like this to happen, yeah, it really hit hard. It really hits hard.
Tristram: Yeah, and you’re then post the diagnosis, and I quote ‘kept alive by machines and stuff’ and in ICU for 52 days before you called the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre home for the next 14 months. Tell us about
that time in rehab. Was the physical or mental side of things more difficult?
Charles: Uh, yeah, it’s tricky. I mean, I’d kind of like to think that I was quite mentally strong throughout it. I tried not to have bad days. I’d probably tend to think that I had only bad moments throughout days, but yeah,
it was quite a taxing time. And just coming to terms with the reality because it is a massive, massive change. I lost 20 kg when I was in the hospital. I didnt look at myself in the mirror for what would have been probably close to look at
least 3,4, 5 months. I could just feel it within myself that, like I had probably just looked like shit. Yeah, I kind of just look like a bit of a shadow before myself really. So there’s so many mental challenges within that period. But then
too like the physical side of it as well. Yeah, your kind of your only working with a few muscles that are still active, and I went to the rehab centre not being able to lift my arm to even scratch my nose. But then over that 14 month period,
I feel quite lucky to have the amount of function and ability that I do now because there’s always someone worse out there than you.
Pete: Now mate before the accident, as you mentioned, you were ready to play some footy. Also, you were actively riding motorbikes, working on the farm. You were part way through actually getting your pilot’s licence
to become a commercial pilot. After over a year in hospital, what did the future hold for you?
Charles: Uh, well, that was the unknown really. Because from such a young age that’s all I wanted to do. I’ve been around aeroplanes in my life, and I started my licence when I was 15. Going through school, there was no Plan B for me. I’d
sort of set my career path out, and that’s the way it was going to go. But having to think of that next step in life in a completely new body, there was so many, so many questions. What was possible? What did I enjoy? There are so many, so
many unknowns. But then every day throughout hospital and rehab, the news will be on. I’d always have the telly on. There were episodes of news bulletins on, what felt like every second hour. So I watched quite a lot of that and it sort
of helped pass time in rehab, but also started getting quite a bit of enjoyment out of it and quite an interest in it. Throughout school, my English grades are always sort of up around the best of the lot. Sort of the best of the subjects
I was doing. And yeah I thought I could probably still physically, you know, become a journalist. So once it was sort of decided that, yes, I could still physically do it and the interest was certainly there, I thought bugger it. Then probably
about a year and a half out of rehab, I was at uni.
Tristram: Amazing. And in terms of when you had that epiphany, was it always TV? Or was it wanting to do print or radio? What was your thinking? Where you want to end up?
Charles: Yeah, TV was always where I wanted to be. You know that’s where I sort of got my interest in journalism was from watching the news on telly, so yeah, I always wanted to do it. But I guess in the back of my mind, I was
like, You know I haven’t seen anyone on TV that’s in a wheelchair. No journalist out there has a disability on screen and so that that was a bit of a challenge. I thought that I would give myself. And then to, like I was at that point in time
where I was just hoping to get through uni, and pass. And at that point, I was just hoping to get through a journalism degree and I guess again, that unknowns in the future, I thought I would just cross that bridge when I came to it.
Pete: Nice. One step at a time. So what sort of job prospects did you find once you had graduated, you know for a journalist with a disability?
Charles: Well, it’s a very competitive market journalism, or media in general, because really, you’re fighting up against jobs that can be covered across three or more different uni degrees. You’ve journalism, Communications,
Media. So I spent a better part of 9 to 10 months handing out resumes. And by the end of it, I had one interview and that wasn’t even as a journalist. So I would have taken anything by then and yeah, by the end of that time I was just sick
of it. I’d stop looking for work, I stopped handing out resumes, and I had a few other projects on the go at that point in time. So I was quite content in actually not having a job at that point, but lucky enough to get a call from the
ABC. I had done a bit of placement throughout there at the end of my degree. So, yeah, I got a phone call from the ABC and I was able to start part time at the ABC in the online and digital space.
Tristram: And so on that your a digital producer for ABC Adelaide and people can see you reporting most mornings on ABC News breakfast. You mentioned how competitive is to become a journalist. I find sometimes as a power
chair user myself, I have to prove myself above and beyond some of my able bodied peers. Do you find you have to do the same in your role, or is it just a degree of acceptance and that?
Charles: Oh, I mean, I always try to do my absolute best, no matter the situation. And, that has been the case even before I was in a wheelchair. So I mean, it is competitive. I guess in a way, I’ve just been very, very lucky
to end up in the role that I have been. But I know that there would be people out there, that would give absolutely anything to be doing the role that I’m in. So, I’m certainly not taking that for granted. I go out there every morning with
that in mind and I’m trying to do the absolute best I can because I would hate to be doing anything else. I’m absolutely loving my role at the moment. Yes, they’re very early starts, to be getting out of bed at 4 AM, but it leaves me
the afternoon to do whatever I’d like. And I’ve come to learn that morning is the best time of the day, so I’m absolutely loving it now.
Pete: This is all about employment and then inclusivity in the workplace. Do you think employers have reservations about employing people with disability? Obviously you haven’t really come up against it, but do you think it’s
a big thing out there at the moment?
Charles: I guess in a way, it’s hard for me to say really, because I don’t own a business, but I do know plenty of people with a disability that has had trouble, I guess getting back into that workforce. I really hope that they
don’t have any reservations about people with a disability. I mean, it has been proven that we are more productive, we take less sick days off work. And it is 2022 now, so I think every day that goes by is another day where we are closer to
having absolutely everyone being accepting of people with a disability, and that includes in the workforce as well. So I’ve sort of always looked at it as there’s never been a better time to be disabled because you know where everything now
is becoming more and more accessible. Not just in the workforce, but in day to day life as well. So I would generally hope that people aren’t hiding away or actively deterring from, employing someone with a disability.
Tristram: On that, I speak to a number of my mates who are in power chairs like myself, and they often don’t disclose that they have a disability when they apply for jobs for fear that there might be some sort of discrimination.
When you’re applying for jobs prior to the ABC, did you disclose that you’re a quadriplegic? Or was it basically hire me on merit, here are my qualifications
Charles: Yeah, I did disguise my disability when I was handing out my resume. To me that initial resume, that initial point when you’re just sending out a resume, I didn’t think it was all that important.
And I guess you know, it’s going back a few years ago now, I probably was worried about what people and employers thought, whether some would think it’s just a bit too hard. But I wanted to look just like everyone else in that pile of resumes.
I wanted my work to stand out, my experience to stand out. If there were issues down the track in terms of accessibility, then you went over that when you need to. So yeah, I didn’t think it was all that important for me to to say that I was
in a wheelchair.
Pete: Now you mentioned earlier that you, in inverted commas didn’t see people like you on TV. And when you’re watching the news or growing up, you didn’t see many people with disabilities. What’s the feedback being like now,
from even people within the disability community? Seeing a person in wheelchair, a quadriplegic doing what you do?
Charles: The response has been really good. Myself and the camera-man will often have people come up to us when we’re out and about and just say how nice is, like how nice a job that we’re doing. And I’ll get messages quite often
from people saying, thank you for doing what you’re doing, you’re showing my son, my daughter, my partner who has a disability that there are different options in life and that people don’t have to be, or people shouldn’t have to worry about
what their employment or what their future looks like just because they are disabled.
Tristram: Yeah, representation matters so, so much. And I was having a conversation with some colleagues at work just in the past week around the current labour shortages that we’re seeing around the world at the moment. How do
you think we advocate that people with disabilities, are more than capable than anyone to fill these positions that there are shortages in? Like, how do we get that out there and make genuine change
Charles: Oh, nah I wish I had the answers to that. It would mean it would be so much easier than what it is. But I think things are becoming more and more visible. I want to tell you every day we’re seeing the Paralympics being
televised on TV and not just put on a channel on replay late at night. We’ve got other people with a disability hosting TV programmes as well. So is it is getting out there. It does take time, though. You know, it would be amazing just to
have a magic wand and to throw it around and for things to be different. But these things do take time, unfortunately, but I guess it is just having to try and change one person’s views, acceptances at a time
Pete Yea I mean the workforce has also been turned on its head recently to now that everyone’s been and it’s acceptable to work from home. Do you think that’s going to work in the favour of people disabilities seeking employment
Charles: Yeah, I think so, for sure. You know, and we mentioned disclosing disabilities. When you’re going for a job interview, employers might be having to fork out a lot of money to change up their workspaces to make sure it
is accessible. Whereas, you know, with people working from home, they may not need to do that. But to like that could also make it a lot easier for people with a disability as well. Because everyone has got a routine to get up, dressed, ready,
what have you. So it is only going to make things easier.
Pete: Mmm great.
Tristram: So Charles, we like to wrap up each episode with the question, what does living a bold life mean to you?
Charles: Living a bold life means to me. Well, that’s a good question
Pete: (chuckles) Yeah, gets them every time.
Charles: Yeah, it does. I guess living a bold life to me looks like living a life that I want to live. I would hate to be stuck at home with no hobbies. I love being active and getting out there and stepping outside of my comfort
zone as well. Just making the most of every opportunity because life is so bloody beautiful. And there are always people out there that are worse off than you. So living a bold life is for me doing what I want when I can, and along the way,
just having a whole lot of fun.
Pete:; Fantastic, and getting up at four o’clock in the morning is always beautiful to mate
Charles: For about five months of the year it is. Come winter it is nasty, very nasty
Pete: Well, Charles, thanks so much for joining us today here in the Grow Bold with Disability podcast brought to you by Feros Care. And listeners can find out more about Charles and his great work at the ABC in the links provided
in today’s episode show notes. Charles Brice, thanks for joining us today.
Charles: Thank you.
Pete This podcast is brought to you by Feros Care, an NDIS partner delivering local area coordination services in Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. Feros Care is a people care organization committed
to helping people live bolder lives. We call it Growing Bold. For over 30 years, Feros has been making it real for both older Australians and those living with disability. To find out more head to www.feroscare.com.au
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The content and views discussed in this podcast series are those of the individuals involved. They are not necessarily condoned by, or, are the views of Feros Care or its employees.