Jimmy and Sharnae Berresford are an autistic couple from Swansea

NSW couple Jimmy and Sharnae Berresford are on a mission to educate people about autism, which will be celebrated this Friday on World Autism Awareness Day.

The couple are both autistic and work locally in Swansea, near Newcastle. Jimmy began working with Ventia in November last year as a cleaner at Swansea High School. He is one of 85 people with a disability employed by Ventia on the NSW Whole of Government Facilities Management Services contract.

Jimmy said having a job gives him a purpose and a work ethic.

"The job is more than just cleaning the door handles; it's working for a company putting their best foot forward in the community to have disability inclusion," Jimmy said. 

"I like my job because I'm part of something that means something."

Jimmy on his way to work on his bike

Jimmy's passion is playing pool, and he has competed in Las Vegas, coming fifth in his division, and he plays in tournaments around Sydney.

"I'm in a unique position where I am autistic and I understand other people's autism and I can communicate that to people who might want to hear," Jimmy said. 

"I think my dream job would be to do that and get paid and have a pool table in my office and become world champion." 

Jimmy said for people who are autistic, everything is over-stimulated - noises are louder, noses are more sensitive and even emotions are heightened, which can be exhausting. 

"Autism is not scary and it doesn't need to be cured," Jimmy said.

"I think people with autism tend to have more detailed-orientated thinking, where most people tend to see the big picture.

Jimmy and Sharnae said one thing people can do to make people with autism feel more comfortable is "not talk down to us, we're not stupid".

"Treat them how you would treat everyone else, with respect. We're humans with thoughts and feelings as well."

Jimmy and Sharnae in their home

Diversity and inclusion at Ventia 

Ventia Disability and Social Inclusion Manager Daniel Osgood said Jimmy had proven to be a diligent worker who took his job very seriously.

"Making sure everything is done properly and the correct way to keep everyone safe at the school is a really important attribute Jimmy brings to the school," Mr Osgood said.

Statistics show about 17 per cent of Australia's population has a disability, which is about 4.4 million people, but only 53 per cent participate in the workforce.

"At Ventia, we think it's really important to reflect the community we serve by delivering a service that is inclusive for everyone," Mr Osgood said.

"There's a whole workforce out there with a disability waiting for their opportunity to showcase their skills and talents.

"Increasing your workplace diversity will bring unique skills, new ideas, new ways of thinking and a broader appeal for your business."


Watch our video with Jimmy to learn more.