Outside the Box

Neill Duncan OCTEC

As Disability Employment Service provider, our job here at OCTEC is to support and encourage people to transition into (for the first time) or back into meaningful employment.

With each participant, we are offer a different set of opportunities to support and encourage.

When Neill Duncan came to OCTEC, he had recently survived a very aggressive cancer that resulted in the amputation of his left arm.

In Neill’s own words “Death is lurking. It has been for three years now. It took a foothold before the amputation and took the sacrifice of a limb to hold back its advance.”

Before his illness, Neill was a musician and music teacher who worked in schools and tutored privately. An acclaimed saxophonist and drummer, Neill had performed across many venues nationally and internationally.

Having lost so much, it didn’t seem fair that Neill lose his vocation too. OCTEC needed to help him find a solution, and it needed to be as unique as Neill, a warm and engaging human being with a lot to offer the community.

Following the amputation, Neill’s friend Michael Lira floated the idea that there must be someone who was altering instruments for disabled musicians. When the idea was put to OCTEC, we explored Neill’s options with JobAcces – a government initiative that helps people with disability find or keep their existing job by supporting them in in the workplace with modification, equipment and tools.

A unique plan

Michael and Neill’s research, coupled with OCTEC’s industry know-how, led to the formulation of a very special plan.

We put the case to JobAccess that Neill was in need of workplace modifications – in this case, his workplace included his tenor saxophone and drums. He was a skilled tradesman who needed his tools adapted in order to continue working.

In the meantime, Neill consulted with Marten Visser from Flutelabs, Amsterdam who would develop the one-handed saxophone. The pair spent many hours on the phone, back and forth, getting all the details right so that Visser could pull off this unique set of workplace modifications.

While Neill and Michael spoke with Marten about how the machine would work and how it would get to Australia, OCTEC continued to advocate for Neill with JobAccess.

During this time, OCTEC ensured that Neill’s home was modified so that he could get all of his new equipment in and out of his studio and safely into his car. We also made sure that all of Neill’s new equipment had the best protective gear.

A year after Neill’s amputation, his new tenor sax arrived. Another year and he had mastered the new machine, ready to start teaching again – this time with a passion for helping special needs children. The thought that he could go back to what he loved, supporting himself and his family again, was a gift to OCTEC.

It was exciting to see Neill back in the swing of his life and work.

When you’re running out of options

The initial build of the machine gave Neill about five years’ worth of work, but when it came time for Neill’s saxophone to be reconditioned last year, JobAccess funding was no longer an option. Once a modification is complete, JobAccess does not take responsibility for the maintenance of tools or machines.

Neill was in a difficult spot. He couldn’t afford this recondition without outside help, yet it would last him for another twenty years!

He would need to make the trip to Amsterdam to help Marten with the painstaking measurements that would be required to ensure the playability of the instrument.

Neill started fundraising – and OCTEC gladly donated to the cause!

It was a great day when Neill left for Amsterdam, 16,000 kilometres away, his sax accompanying him. For three weeks, he and Marten worked day and night to complete the recondition before Neill’s flight home.

Thinking outside the box is what we do and the satisfaction of helping people like Neill Duncan achieve their dreams is what drives us every day.

Go to our website to learn more about how we can help you with our disability employment services, call us on 1800 258 182, or meet us face to face at the South West Disability Expo, April 5 and 5 at the Whitlam Leisure Centre, Liverpool.