Forklift licence an opportunity for Sri Lankan migrant with Down syndrome

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A forklift licence is offering new freedoms to a young Sri Lankan woman with Down syndrome.

Nilu Palipan is breaking new ground learning to drive a forklift in Brisbane, and she is looking forward to a brighter future in Australia.

She has just completed her provisional driver’s licence, quite an achievement for the 22-year-old who has Down syndrome.

“We're going to my workplace,” said Nilu, driving SBS across town to Rocklea.

Her driver's licence has given her new independence, but she is not ready to stop there.

“I’m happy to be here, in my job, and earn some money. I like to drive a car and a forklift too,” said Ms Palipan.

“At Makeables warehouse we are doing packaging and assembling and I’m (now) doing the forklift.”

Her father Nahil was not so sure about it at first.

“After getting her licence, she saw the forklift operation in the workplace and one day told me, ‘I want to become forklift operator’,” he said.

“It was a bit shocking for me. I was not ready to accept that at that time.”

"She can’t get the disability support pension because it (her Down syndrome) was there before she migrated to Australia.”

Makeables is run by disability service provider Multicap and, as the name suggests, is helping make her dream come true.

“It's really uncommon for people in assisted employment to get forklift licences, more uncommon that they are female and probably really uncommon that they come from a diverse background,” said Joanne Jessop, CEO of Multicap.

“One of the things about being a forklift driver is it’s a pathway to independence and most of our staff here would aspire to drive a forklift.

“For her it’s an amazing achievement that will allow her to move out of this environment and into a different work environment in the open market, if she wants to.”

Ms Palipan has completed the theoretical training and is now slowly clocking up the required 100 hours of supervised forklift driving.

It is a big change from her daily work and she is making steady progress.

“She's learning fast, another six months - she'll be good,” said Deepak Raniga, her employment support worker at Makeables.

“If she’s confident, she can go anywhere.”

Her father brims with pride for his daughter.

“She's our girl, we are so proud of her, (she has done) so many things we never expected,” Mr Palipan said.

The family moved from Sri Lanka, first to New Zealand and then to Australia in 2005 as skilled migrants.

“I don’t think Nilu would have a life like this if we’d stayed back in Sri Lanka. Nilu’s life is great here,” he said.

“As an Australian citizen, Nilu will stay until she dies, but she can’t get the disability support pension because it (her Down syndrome) was there before she migrated to Australia.”

“She has to basically support herself.”

Mr Palipan no longer worries so much about what will become of her when he and his wife are no longer around.

Nilu is now saving her money and looking forward to working full-time in the driver's seat.

“I feel independent and feel happy. It’s changed my life,” Ms Palipan said.

“I want to get a brand new car to drive to work.”

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