From fast food to financial independence: Emma's journey to 'normalcy'

  • Emma secured work at KFC Toronto after relocating from Sydney, and has been in her role since January 2022. Emma lives with cerebral palsy and anxiety, and is supported by Castle Employment Support Officer Jodie Plain, with whom she shares a friendship.
  • Emma says her biggest achievement is the 'normalcy' of financial independence. Being able to pay her mortgage and bills, and catch up with friends whenever she wants.

Braedon, Emma and Jodie standing outside KFC Toronto

Emma, pictured centre, with Castle's Jodie Plain (r) and KFC Toronto's Braedon (left)

Emma's Journey

Emma McKenzie, a 29-year-old from Wangi Wangi, has found both financial independence and personal fulfillment through her job at KFC Toronto.

Emma's journey with Castle began when she moved to Lake Macquarie in 2020, seeking a change from her taxing commute to Sydney. Emma lives with cerebral palsy and also anxiety. She reached out to Castle and secured a position at KFC Toronto, where she has been working since January 2022. Emma's role primarily involves working in the drive-through window, handling transactions and serving drinks to customers. However, her success at KFC extends beyond her job duties. She credits her employment consultant, Jodie Plain, for her ongoing support, effective communication with her employer, and enduring friendship. Emma describes their relationship as open and trusting, with Jodie providing assistance in navigating her job and managing her anxiety. Outside of work, Emma enjoys spending time with her friends and family, going for coffee, and watching movies. She also has aspirations to volunteer at an aged care facility. Emma's journey is a testament to the changing landscape of disability employment, with individuals like her being given opportunities to work in a variety of roles alongside colleagues of all abilities. Her story serves as an inspiration to others with disabilities, encouraging them to seek the support they need and never underestimate their potential for success in the workforce.


Full transcript

Interviewer: Okay, do you want to just start with introducing yourself?

Emma: My name is Emma I'm 29 years old, I live in Wangi Wangi and I found a job at KFC Toronto through Castle.

Interviewer: So how long have you been working at KFC?

Emma: I've been working at KFC since January 2022 and I work in the drive-through window taking money and handing out drinks to the customers.

Interviewer: If you're comfortable, can you tell me about your disability?

Emma: Yes. I have cerebral palsy, so that means I've got a tremor in my hands, more my left hand predominantly so steer clear of that one because you'll get hurt (laughs) and I get a bit of back pain. I have a little bit of anxiety too, Jodie helps me with that. Sometimes I get a bit flustered and a bit overwhelmed.

Interviewer: And can you tell me about how you came to work at KFC, your journey from not having a job to now?

Emma: So I moved up to Lake Macquarie in 2020. And while what I was doing for the first two years was traveling to Sydney for work and I thought that was just so taxing on my body and that had to stop. So I looked around all the local disability employment agencies and I found Castle and within 12 months they had me a secure job five days a fortnight at KFC Toronto and I've been there ever since.

Interviewer: Can you tell me about who you work with at Castle?

Emma: I work in a fantastic employment consultant called Jodie Plain. She's wonderful. She comes and sees me every week at work just to check in and make sure that my employer is happy with what I'm doing and if I'm understanding the job making sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and help liaise the communication between me and my boss. It's a good service to have.

Interviewer: Can you tell me about Jodie?

Emma: Jodie. Jodie. Jodie. She's kind and she's funny and I trust her a lot.

We have a very good relationship. Her and I, we’re very open with each other and I try and trick her and tell her I don’t like her but I really do and I know how lucky I am to have her.Jodie (left) and Emma take a selfie together.

Interviewer: Can you tell me about your life, of outside of your job and employment? What do you like to do?

Emma: Outside of castle I like to see my friend and family. I'm gonna go down to Sydney to see my family there and I'm also thinking about potentially volunteering in an age care facility.

Interviewer: What do you do when you catch up with your friends?

Emma: We go for coffee and I love going to the movies. I've seen The Little Mermaid and I'm hanging out to see the Barbie movie as well.

Interviewer: Can you tell me about how can you tell me about any challenges you might have because you have cerebral palsy?

Emma: I can't do any of the hot stuff, so that's why I stand at the drive-through window. I'm only taking money and handing out beverages and drinks.

So I always knew that I was going to need a job where I wouldn't have to rely on my memory too much. I was going to need a job that was very, very repetitive. And I think that was the first barrier Castle and I found because we needed to find something that I would do over and over again, so a bit of monotony was necessary I suppose.

Emma standing inside the window of the drive-thru at KFCInterviewer: How does KFC help with the challenges that you might have?

Emma: KFC is fantastic. They're in regular communication with Castle about things that I might need assistance with, and they're always checking in with me to say how I'm going and if I'm enjoying the job and if I'm struggling and they're also challenging a bit as well with the OCD and having to let go of the fact that things you don't always have to be. Structured and in control, structured and the same.

Interviewer: Can you tell me what you think your strengths are in the workplace?

Emma: I think definitely my customer service skills. I love being with people. I love talking to people. I love creating goals and meeting my goals. So at KFC we have a donations competition for the Youth Foundation and I really like to raise as much money as I can because it makes me feel like I've really achieved something


Interviewer: What would you say are your most significant achievements whilst working at KFC?

Emma: I would have to say one of my big guest achievements that KFC is my ability to collect donations for the Youth Foundation. Every day when I come in and my boss goes “Thank God you’re here we need a lot of donations today”, so it's nice that they can rely on me to do that. I guess moving forward my goal is to really work on my concentration, getting quicker at my job.

Interviewer: What does that mean outside of work that you are aiming to do and what you've already achieved? 

Emma: I've been able to move out on my own. I live on my own and I have a support worker once a week. We've been working alot on my anxiety management outside of work. So eventually I'd like to be able to go back to volunteering at the aged care centre because my anxiety is so much better.

Interviewer: What does having a job mean for your life outside of work? For example, money, or do you feel you're contributing?

Emma: Financially, of course, but it's normalcy.

So I guess my biggest achievement would be being able to live a normal life, considering I have a disability. I go to work. I pay my mortgage. I pay my bills. I’m able to volunteer. I’m able to catch up with my friends. I’m able to travel to Sydney to see my family.

So I guess I may not have achieved some ‘extraordinary’ but I feel like I have been able to achieve ‘living a normal life’

Interviewer: What would you say to other people with disabilities about seeking support to find work?

Emma: Make sure you trust your case worker, I think that’s a really big thing because if I didn’t like Jodie it wouldn’t work, I don’t think it would work at all because I’ve had support workers and other case managers that I haven’t liked, and you don’t want to talk to people you don’t like. So I guess yeah, make sure you got some sort of report with your case worker.


Interviewer: What would you say to someone who isn’t sure they could get a job because of their disability?

Emma: Just try. You never know if you don’t try.


Interviewer: What does disability mean to you?

Emma: So I suppose disability to me that the medical world has used instead of ‘barrier’ or limitation.


Interviewer: How has disability employment changed? Has the perception of disability employment changed?

Emma: I think the perception of disability employment has changed a lot. Maybe even in the last ten years. I think once upon a time a disabled person would be in a warehouse packing all day and now they’re out in the community working alongside everybody else, what a wonderful thing, it’s come so far.


Interviewer: And how have your workmates and your colleagues' perceptions of disability employment changed or disabilities in general?

Emma: Oh good question. I think maybe ten years ago they might have said “oh you've come from a disability employment centre and you’re here to do one job and that's the only job you do.”
When you walk up to somewhere like KFC Toronto you've got people with disabilities doing lots of different jobs and they are the same jobs as the other staff members are doing. To me, that's good progression really.