Five for Fighting

“…I may be disturbed, but I won’t you concede… even heroes have the right to dream? And it’s not easy to be me…” These are the words the band Five for Fighting texted some twenty years ago in their song Superman (It’s not easy). I recently listened to this song for the first time and these words stuck with me. And as the band’s name is Five for Fighting, I started resonating about the number five. BECAUSE: Exactly on this day five years ago, AMSEL started its operations! And today, five years later, AMSEL is still in business! So it’s time to review my first five years as a freelance independent researcher. And what would be easier than just naming the five most exciting jobs I worked on since I started on this journey?

During the last five years, I forwarded more than thirty invoices and they were mostly sent to Australian addresses. So it’s best to look at all these different Australian projects I worked for to somehow name five. Most jobs were definitely given to me by the Centre for Disability Studies of the University of Sydney but I also worked for the Curtin University in Perth or on an expert panel to compile first aid advice for people with intellectual disabilities suffering mental health issues. This one was fun because I just had to agree or disagree with certain theses that were suggested to best help people with ID in acute mental health crises. Through a Delphi-method, these answers were then collated into guidelines to which we had to agree to. Sounds fairly easy but it wasn’t. However, the mental health advice the expert panel compiled is now an official guideline and can be accessed here.

Another great project was to analyse qualitative data about inclusive research with people with intellectual disabilities. The CDS in Sydney runs their own inclusive research group that researches matters of concern for them and while I worked for the CDS in Australia in 2016, I had made some contacts with this group before. In 2017 as one of my first jobs, I was asked to analyse a set of interviews that was dealing with inclusive research data and the outcomes for people with ID from this research.

In the last real summer, pre-pandemic in 2019, I was contracted to work on a review of information on hidden disabilities that was commissioned by the Public Service Commission of New South Wales. That was fun too and back then, I discovered that especially in the UK, where I live since 2018, hidden disabilities can be communicated through wearing a symbolising lanyard, the so-called sunflower lanyard. What a great idea I thought. Just by wearing this lanyard people could communicate to knowledgeable staff at, for example, airports that they are having a hidden disability and won’t have to explain why they might need to expect a particular treatment from the staff. So far so good. But now, just 2.5 years later this brilliant idea was spoiled as all those people who are just ignorant or unwilling to wear masks as a protection against Covid-19 have abused this symbol for their egoism and anti-social tendencies. I am not saying that there are certain people for whom the sunflower lanyard is still a brilliant way to communicate their mask exemptions but the sheer inflation of these lanyards since mask mandates are in place makes it hard to believe that those lanyards are worn for the right reasons…

Well, this pandemic… When Covid kicked in in early 2020, the downside of being a freelancer truly became obvious for me. I had finished my last job in the autumn of 2019 and with not having any form of contract, there were dark months ahead for me. Especially, as I did not know whether I would ever be contracted again, I could not or did not want to claim any of the Covid-19-benefits for self-employed the UK government granted. If I would have known that I got contacted at the end of 2020 again to work on further projects, I probably would have claimed every single penny that was available.

Anyway, at the end of 2020, I was contacted to do some transcribing work for a joint research project of the University of Sydney and Curtin University from Western Australia. The two universities were contracted to work on a project scrutinizing the factors that enable or hinder successful independent supported living arrangements for people with intellectual disabilities in Australia. I was contacted shortly before Christmas and some 10 to 20 interviews were awaiting transcription as soon as possible. After feeling kind of depressed due to Covid-19 and no jobs ever since I agreed to do whatever work was on offer. Unfortunately, the business rate for the cost of the work was already agreed in the budget and I had no choice… Nevertheless, shortly after I had finished all the transcripts, I was contracted to also do the qualitative analyses of the data and while I am writing these lines, we’re awaiting the official publication of the research report of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) that tendered the project.

And as I apparently did a not too bad job, I was contacted shortly after the AHURI job was finished to work on some more data. This time on a consultation that was undertaken with Australian disability advocacy groups to search for a ten-year research agenda for disability research in Australia. And apparently, I am back in the game and can continue my journey as a freelance independent researcher.

Conclusion

What started as some extra work for the early evening hours in 2017 has become a refuge for me during the last couple of years. Because since moving to the UK I could not manage to find any reasonable work in my profession for reasons I did describer earlier. But being a freelancer at least allows you to write in your resume that you’re self-employed and not simply doing nothing. And when neighbours ask me whether I am back in the office or still working from home, I can still say that I always work from home as I am only working freelance. I don’t have to say: I am unemployed and sucked in more than ten job interviews since moving to the UK. The song I mentioned earlier concludes:

I’m only a man in a silly red sheet
Digging for kryptonite on this one-way street
Only a man in a funny red sheet
Looking for special things inside of me

It’s not easy to be me, but I managed to keep my little freelance business afloat for five years. Hooray!

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