Jan
6
2017

Changing the narrative, one job at a time

 If 4.2 million Australians have a disability, as recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics[1] in 2015, why is our image and definition of a person with a disability still centred around what they can’t do, rather than what we can do?  Why do we think of disability in a narrow, deficit focussed way?

 Australians think of disability as the ‘medical model’, as a ‘deficit’, a person can’t walk, or can’t hear, or see, can’t think the ‘normal’ way.

 “Neurology’s favourite word is ‘deficit’, denoting an impairment or incapacity of neurological function: loss of speech, loss of language, loss of memory, loss of vision, loss of dexterity, loss of identity and myriad other lacks and losses of specific functions (or faculties).”[2]

― Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales

 Oliver Sacks made a good point. We do think about what a person can’t do, rather than can.

Under the medical model, a disability of any kind is likely to be interpreted as unable to function at all, rather than being an extraordinary human being who has adapted to an illness, genetic disorder, or acquired injury.

But people with a disability and their closest advocates, often their family members, may have a different view. The social model of disability sees the environment in which people live, and its rigid demand for ‘normal’, as responsible for the inequalities people with a disability face, and changing that physical, attitudinal, communication and social environments as the answer.

For example, making a reasonable adjustment in a workplace for a person with a disability enables both social and economic participation. Access doesn’t just mean a wheelchair ramp, in fact, in the majority of cases this won’t be necessary, but can mean a range of things; adaptive technology, quiet working environments, a desk situated close to the lift, screen readers, hearing loops, but most importantly, the attitude of the people around that person.

We currently define disability in the workplace via a medical model, for the most part. This suggests that the person with a disability make the adaptation to the workplace, rather than the workplace making adaptations for the person with the disability. The medical model suggests that a disability is in need of a ‘cure’, or ‘treatment’, and where successful, it is then the person with the disability who must ‘normalise’, where the social model suggests modifications to attitudes and provision of equipment, or access, as the answer, so that people with a disability can participate in work.

The responsibility of adapting lies with the workplace, and different ways of undertaking work are used to ensure a person with a disability is not further burdened by trying to adapt to a ‘normal’ way of working, when that may not be possible.

Attitudinal Change

We can’t undertake the task of implementing reasonable adjustment without the attitude change that must go with it towards people with a disability in general, in our society.

Without attitude change, any physical modifications or adaptive technology will continue to make difficult the prospect of working and staying in a job.

How do we change attitudes? There are many attempting to change the narrative around disability, to change our thinking from medical to social model.

‘Inspiration porn’

This wouldn’t be food for thought without contemplating the politics of disability. The late Stella Young pointed out why we object to being called an ‘inspiration’ in her TedTalk[3]. Using the medical model of disability, the not-for-profit sector has been very successful in raising funding from using stories of ‘inspirational’ people with a disability, and studies on the marketing of not-for-profits show that some advertisements raise a lot more money than others. That’s why around Christmas time you’ll find a lot of advertising for charities featuring seriously ill children, children at risk in foreign countries, or children who have no presents or Christmas dinner. They are aimed at maximising an emotional response, persuading donors to act.[4]

The longer we keep using media which shows ‘inspirational’ stories, such as that of a child who has a physical disability completing a 50 metre race at school and subsequently being an ‘inspiration’, the longer we perpetuate the medical model thinking of a child adapting to try to ‘adapt’ to a ‘normal’ activity.

What’s the answer then?

To battle the medical model used routinely to fundraise, we need to change the entire dialogue around disability, in everyday circumstances, at work, at play, at school, and in social settings. The narrative around disability can be overwhelmingly reinforcing as a medical model of deficit. Under the social model of disability, the narrative must change to discussion of what people with a disability can do, given the right adjustment of the environment. The environment can be social, attitudinal, physical, communications or economic.

Attitudinal change is achieved by developing a positive narrative about disability around how the rest of the world can adapt to having a person with a disability in their midst, no matter what that person’s disability is.

Developing a positive narrative isn’t enough, though. We must also show the way forward for the development of a much less rigid definition of disability under the social model. If disability is regarded as a matter of adapting an environment, many things which were disregarded under the medical model come into play. Rather than only providing physical equipment needed, we can foster the entire environment to be flexible enough to adapt to people with a disability. And it’s not just a matter of language, it is physical and attitudinal change. In a workplace, this is easily translated to reasonable adjustment. But who does the adjusting?

Definition of reasonable adjustment

The definition of reasonable adjustment in a workplace is also based on the medical model of disability. It comes from the ‘rehabilitation’ focus, how do we improve a person’s ‘functionality’ in the workplace to equal their non-disabled peers? It is focussed on adapting the person to the workplace, the nine to five job.

If we change the focus of reasonable adjustment to include not only the physical equipment a person needs to adapt to a workplace, but adapting the work methods, ways of working, and attitudes of co-workers around people with a disability, we maximise their effectiveness as employees.

Job sharing, flexible work hours, flexible working arrangements, results only work environments and awareness training for co-workers are all part of a reasonable adjustment definition that we think needs implementing in the majority of workplaces in Australia, not only for people with a disability, but parents, carers, and remotely located communities.

As the saying goes, if you get it right for a person with a disability, you get it right for everyone.

The real cost of employing a person with a disability is rarely more than an average of AU$6-700, for which a grant is available from the Australian Government.[5]

Diversity must include people with a disability

There are some employers willing to embrace a social model definition of disability, who have made awareness of disability in the workplace, and reasonable adjustments a reality, and they are to be applauded. But there are many still operating under the medical model definition.

Not only do employers need to step back and take a look at the definition of reasonable adjustment, but also the definition of diversity.

If we take diversity to mean a true reflection of our population, with 4.2 million Australians with a disability we can assume that around one-fifth of our employees will have a disability. So far we have seen successful campaigns defining diversity as including

  • people of multicultural and Indigenous Australian heritage,
  • women
  • people who identify as LGBTI;

but often we do not include people with a disability as a specific group of people for inclusion in our workforces. Australia has one of the lowest inclusion rates of people with a disability as employees in the OECD.[6]

Some organisations have implemented a ‘disclose and interview’ policy, where people with a disability can self-identify and be prioritised for interview when applying for a job. This alone will not improve the employment participation rate – it may improve the ‘disclosure’ rate - it must come with a readjustment of thinking, attitudes, and accessibility. The social model must be applied to access, reasonable adjustment and workplace attitudes to disability to have any success. The definition of diversity must change, and the social model of disability must be applied to the definition of reasonable adjustment. This is part of the answer to expanding inclusion and diversity to represent the real diversity available in our workforce.

Until that happens, there won’t be a rise in the employment rate of people with a disability discernibly beyond where it is now, costing some $800 million in payments to Disability Employment Service providers, whose effectiveness in finding work opportunities for people with a disability has been shown to be declining.

We are not a Disability Employment Services provider, but a private company which is changing the narrative around disability to reflect the social model, if necessary, one job at a time.

Where next?

It’s simpler than you think. When you consider adapting your work environment to a person with a disability, think flexibility.

Enabled Employment can assist you with the implementation of practical and cost effective strategies to ensure your workforce is truly inclusive of the diversity of our population, using the social model of disability. We can give you the facts on the advantages, both social and economic, that attitude change, diversity, application of a broad definition of reasonable adjustment will bring to your business.

As a leader in the employment of people from diverse backgrounds, we can ensure that your company, business or organisation can set the standard and change the conversation about disability in the workforce.

Get in touch with us today.

 

[1] 4430.0 - Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2015 

[2] Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales

[3] https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much

[4] Guilt Appeals: Persuasion Knowledge and Charitable Appeals Hibbert, Smith, Davies & Ireland, Nottingham & Leicester Universities, Psychology & Marketing, Vol. 24(8): 723–742 (August 2007)

[5] http://askjan.org/media/lowcosthighimpact.html

[6]http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/FlagPost/2011/December/Disability_employment_in_Australia_and_the_OECD

 

New Mindset heading with a tickbox of yes selected

 If 4.2 million Australians have a disability, as recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics[1] in 2015, why is our image and definition of a person with a disability still centred around what they can’t do, rather than what we can do?  Why do we think of disability in a narrow, deficit focussed way?

 Australians think of disability as the ‘medical model’, as a ‘deficit’, a person can’t walk, or can’t hear, or see, can’t think the ‘normal’ way.

 “Neurology’s favourite word is ‘deficit’, denoting an impairment or incapacity of neurological function: loss of speech, loss of language, loss of memory, loss of vision, loss of dexterity, loss of identity and myriad other lacks and losses of specific functions (or faculties).”[2]

― Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales

 Oliver Sacks made a good point. We do think about what a person can’t do, rather than can.

Under the medical model, a disability of any kind is likely to be interpreted as unable to function at all, rather than being an extraordinary human being who has adapted to an illness, genetic disorder, or acquired injury.

But people with a disability and their closest advocates, often their family members, may have a different view. The social model of disability sees the environment in which people live, and its rigid demand for ‘normal’, as responsible for the inequalities people with a disability face, and changing that physical, attitudinal, communication and social environments as the answer.

For example, making a reasonable adjustment in a workplace for a person with a disability enables both social and economic participation. Access doesn’t just mean a wheelchair ramp, in fact, in the majority of cases this won’t be necessary, but can mean a range of things; adaptive technology, quiet working environments, a desk situated close to the lift, screen readers, hearing loops, but most importantly, the attitude of the people around that person.

We currently define disability in the workplace via a medical model, for the most part. This suggests that the person with a disability make the adaptation to the workplace, rather than the workplace making adaptations for the person with the disability. The medical model suggests that a disability is in need of a ‘cure’, or ‘treatment’, and where successful, it is then the person with the disability who must ‘normalise’, where the social model suggests modifications to attitudes and provision of equipment, or access, as the answer, so that people with a disability can participate in work.

The responsibility of adapting lies with the workplace, and different ways of undertaking work are used to ensure a person with a disability is not further burdened by trying to adapt to a ‘normal’ way of working, when that may not be possible.

Attitudinal Change

We can’t undertake the task of implementing reasonable adjustment without the attitude change that must go with it towards people with a disability in general, in our society.

Without attitude change, any physical modifications or adaptive technology will continue to make difficult the prospect of working and staying in a job.

How do we change attitudes? There are many attempting to change the narrative around disability, to change our thinking from medical to social model.

‘Inspiration porn’

This wouldn’t be food for thought without contemplating the politics of disability. The late Stella Young pointed out why we object to being called an ‘inspiration’ in her TedTalk[3]. Using the medical model of disability, the not-for-profit sector has been very successful in raising funding from using stories of ‘inspirational’ people with a disability, and studies on the marketing of not-for-profits show that some advertisements raise a lot more money than others. That’s why around Christmas time you’ll find a lot of advertising for charities featuring seriously ill children, children at risk in foreign countries, or children who have no presents or Christmas dinner. They are aimed at maximising an emotional response, persuading donors to act.[4]

The longer we keep using media which shows ‘inspirational’ stories, such as that of a child who has a physical disability completing a 50 metre race at school and subsequently being an ‘inspiration’, the longer we perpetuate the medical model thinking of a child adapting to try to ‘adapt’ to a ‘normal’ activity.

What’s the answer then?

To battle the medical model used routinely to fundraise, we need to change the entire dialogue around disability, in everyday circumstances, at work, at play, at school, and in social settings. The narrative around disability can be overwhelmingly reinforcing as a medical model of deficit. Under the social model of disability, the narrative must change to discussion of what people with a disability can do, given the right adjustment of the environment. The environment can be social, attitudinal, physical, communications or economic.

Attitudinal change is achieved by developing a positive narrative about disability around how the rest of the world can adapt to having a person with a disability in their midst, no matter what that person’s disability is.

Developing a positive narrative isn’t enough, though. We must also show the way forward for the development of a much less rigid definition of disability under the social model. If disability is regarded as a matter of adapting an environment, many things which were disregarded under the medical model come into play. Rather than only providing physical equipment needed, we can foster the entire environment to be flexible enough to adapt to people with a disability. And it’s not just a matter of language, it is physical and attitudinal change. In a workplace, this is easily translated to reasonable adjustment. But who does the adjusting?

Definition of reasonable adjustment

The definition of reasonable adjustment in a workplace is also based on the medical model of disability. It comes from the ‘rehabilitation’ focus, how do we improve a person’s ‘functionality’ in the workplace to equal their non-disabled peers? It is focussed on adapting the person to the workplace, the nine to five job.

If we change the focus of reasonable adjustment to include not only the physical equipment a person needs to adapt to a workplace, but adapting the work methods, ways of working, and attitudes of co-workers around people with a disability, we maximise their effectiveness as employees.

Job sharing, flexible work hours, flexible working arrangements, results only work environments and awareness training for co-workers are all part of a reasonable adjustment definition that we think needs implementing in the majority of workplaces in Australia, not only for people with a disability, but parents, carers, and remotely located communities.

As the saying goes, if you get it right for a person with a disability, you get it right for everyone.

The real cost of employing a person with a disability is rarely more than an average of AU$6-700, for which a grant is available from the Australian Government.[5]

Diversity must include people with a disability

There are some employers willing to embrace a social model definition of disability, who have made awareness of disability in the workplace, and reasonable adjustments a reality, and they are to be applauded. But there are many still operating under the medical model definition.

Not only do employers need to step back and take a look at the definition of reasonable adjustment, but also the definition of diversity.

If we take diversity to mean a true reflection of our population, with 4.2 million Australians with a disability we can assume that around one-fifth of our employees will have a disability. So far we have seen successful campaigns defining diversity as including

  • people of multicultural and Indigenous Australian heritage,
  • women
  • people who identify as LGBTI;

but often we do not include people with a disability as a specific group of people for inclusion in our workforces. Australia has one of the lowest inclusion rates of people with a disability as employees in the OECD.[6]

Some organisations have implemented a ‘disclose and interview’ policy, where people with a disability can self-identify and be prioritised for interview when applying for a job. This alone will not improve the employment participation rate – it may improve the ‘disclosure’ rate - it must come with a readjustment of thinking, attitudes, and accessibility. The social model must be applied to access, reasonable adjustment and workplace attitudes to disability to have any success. The definition of diversity must change, and the social model of disability must be applied to the definition of reasonable adjustment. This is part of the answer to expanding inclusion and diversity to represent the real diversity available in our workforce.

Until that happens, there won’t be a rise in the employment rate of people with a disability discernibly beyond where it is now, costing some $800 million in payments to Disability Employment Service providers, whose effectiveness in finding work opportunities for people with a disability has been shown to be declining.

We are not a Disability Employment Services provider, but a private company which is changing the narrative around disability to reflect the social model, if necessary, one job at a time.

Where next?

It’s simpler than you think. When you consider adapting your work environment to a person with a disability, think flexibility.

Enabled Employment can assist you with the implementation of practical and cost effective strategies to ensure your workforce is truly inclusive of the diversity of our population, using the social model of disability. We can give you the facts on the advantages, both social and economic, that attitude change, diversity, application of a broad definition of reasonable adjustment will bring to your business.

As a leader in the employment of people from diverse backgrounds, we can ensure that your company, business or organisation can set the standard and change the conversation about disability in the workforce.

Get in touch with us today.

 

[1] 4430.0 - Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2015 

[2] Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales

[3] https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much

[4] Guilt Appeals: Persuasion Knowledge and Charitable Appeals Hibbert, Smith, Davies & Ireland, Nottingham & Leicester Universities, Psychology & Marketing, Vol. 24(8): 723–742 (August 2007)

[5] http://askjan.org/media/lowcosthighimpact.html

[6]http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/FlagPost/2011/December/Disability_employment_in_Australia_and_the_OECD

 

New Mindset heading with a tickbox of yes selected

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