Personal Story

Feature Issue on Transition in a Global Context for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Burning Desire: Looking After Myself


Jack Bird , as told to his parents, Tracy and Terry Bird, who has intellectual and physical disabilities, works at Downlights, a New Zealand maker of fragranced soy candles. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

A young man wearing a red apron with “Jack” written on the front holds a metal tube as he fills containers with wax to make candles.

Jack Bird at work in Auckland New Zealand, making candles for Downlights.

I’ve had lots of jobs at Downlights. Today, I make the candles and boxes, and do heavy lifting. When you pour candles, you melt the wax and get a stick to hold the wick straight. Then you add the fragrance, pour it in glassware, and it sits and becomes a candle. I’ve also helped with selling online and in stores. I had to learn to talk to customers, be patient, and smile. I also make eye contact. Sometimes it was difficult, but I managed to do it.

I first came here through a transition program called Moxie. I liked this experience the best for a lot of reasons. I get paid well at Downlights and earn a living wage, so I can pay for restaurants and my phone and other electronics. Also, it smells really nice there, a fresh and clean smell. I was quiet at first, but then I started to talk and laugh more. The people are really good. They don’t push me too much. In this work, you have to have control over how much wax you pour, and we pour a lot of candles. It has to be just the right amount and I got quite good at making candles. Jennifer Del Bel, the owner of Downlights, tells me I’m amazing. Normally, I really don’t like making mistakes, but Jennifer said not to worry about it, and that helped me a lot. Making mistakes is OK, because you can easily fix them. We often have a laugh during the day, which makes it the most fun part of the day. Jennifer is the funniest person there. I’m happy there and want to keep doing it as long as I can. At first, I didn’t really want to work, but I needed money to be able to look after myself and treat myself.

When I first started, a van took me to work. Then I learned to catch the train and bus. My commute is long, about an hour each way, so my long-term goal is to start my own business closer to home.

I’ve been working at Downlights for three years, but I tried other things during and after high school, which I finished in 2016. In high school I liked maths, and in a fashion and design class, I made a quilt that my mum still uses today. I did PE, but that wasn’t really my thing. I did like football [soccer], and I made it to the finals once in the 200-meter dash at the school athletics day.

After I left school, I was with Recreate NZ, an organization that works with young people with disabilities. Through their Moxie transition program, I did life skills training, including gardening. Gardening wasn’t enjoyable because you had to get your hands dirty. I also did work experience in the kitchen, which I enjoyed, and worked in a crowded warehouse that I did not like. It was through Moxie that I learned to take the trains and bus, and where I found Downlights.

Outside of work, I like spending time with Lopsy, one of our two family dogs. She likes her own space, like I do, and sometimes I sing to her. She’s friendly most of the time but she gets scared of some people, like I do. I also watch motorsports with my brother Kyle, and I like watching rugby with my dad.

In the future I’d like to buy a house and live there by myself to start. After a while, maybe I would have friends live there as well.