Jan
30
2017

There is no ‘diversity’ without disability

I’ve written about this before, but every now and then I have an epiphany, and I have to write about it again.

 Look, there’s just no ‘diversity’ without people with a disability being included in the mix.

Every company, every organisation, and every corporate image has some sort of diversity and inclusion policy and practice these days, but people with a disability come under the ‘corporate social responsibility’ label.

Or, in other words, the ‘too hard’ basket.

Diversity and inclusion officers and representatives themselves fail to include people with a disability in their employment initiatives. I once went to a meeting where a person with a disability was espousing the virtues of a particular inclusion program as a ‘diversity and inclusion’ representative, and she opened with the remark…”There’s no disability, just a bad attitude’ – a quote from Scott Hamilton.

So what’s wrong with that statement?

What it does is tell people with a disability who are out of work that it’s their own fault they’re unemployed, and that their attitude towards work is the reason they are unemployed.

It’s my experience as the CEO of a recruitment company for people with a disability representing thousands of candidates, that it is not the attitude of people with a disability that is responsible for the appalling unemployment rates of that cohort – it is the attitude of prospective employers, and people without a disability who are responsible for providing employment opportunities for them.

Partly to blame is our definition of diversity. We include women, people who identify as LGBTI, Indigenous Australian or culturally diverse people for equal opportunity in our employment policies and statistics. But there is very rarely a mention of people with a disability in diversity policies or practice.

Stop demonising people with a disability

Let’s go back to the example of the person with a disability who used the definition ‘There is no disability except a bad attitude’ for a minute.

If people with a disability themselves are espousing this philosophy, then it gives permission to the rest of the working world to blame us as well for being unemployed. It demonises people who are unable to access work due to their disability.

And I’m done with demonising people with a disability, who are being blamed as well for an annual $800 million Disability Employment Services bill to the Australian Government. Let’s be clear, people with a disability aren’t pocketing large amounts of cash to sit around and refuse to work with a bad attitude – the money goes to Disability Employment Service providers under the government’s Disability Employment Framework.

But, sadly, a lack of corporate governance means that in some providers, there is an emphasis on spending as little as possible assisting a person with a disability into work, and maximising the profit taking from the government funding. In the Department of Social Services recent discussion paper on the Disability Employment Framework, openly acknowledged that people with a disability were being ‘parked’ – signed on to an employment services provider – and no action at all being taken to assist them back to work in order to maximise profits.

And that’s not the worst of it. For an $800 million bill, the Australian Government, spending taxpayer dollars, has absolutely no record of where the money has gone, and openly acknowledges in the Discussion Paper that there is no accountability for the considerable sum of money, and that the performance overall of the DES system is declining – meaning even less people with a disability are assisted into work.

In any other industry, this would warrant at least a Senate Inquiry, if not a Royal Commission.

But people with a disability – who cannot at this point, even change their DES provider - are being told it’s their own fault they can’t find a job and that they’re the ones who are expensive!

Clearly, if these practices continue, the unemployment rate will continue to rise, and there will be even less assistance to people genuinely in need, or employer education about disability.

It’s a matter of choice

Enabled Employment has made a submission to the Department of Social Services as part of the current discussions around Disability Employment. We are advocating for freedom of choice in providers for people who need to use them. What the public doesn’t know is that once signed on, even if you receive no service at all from your provider, you cannot change your provider.

The current discussions also canvass how to ensure each person with a disability receives the correct funding support. However, the government is considering a system which perpetuates the provider’s control over funding, as some people involved in the discussions consider that people with a disability are unable to make their own choices due to some lack of either insight or intellectual ability.

There are some people with a disability that do need assistance to make decisions about their support choices; however the vast majority do not. If we were not able to make our own choices, then surely the entire NDIS system would fail, because it is based on the knowledge that people with a disability in fact are able to make their own choices about the support they receive.

And if you are unable to make your own choices about how and where your monetary support from the Australian Government is spent in supporting you to find work, how then would you cope with actually working, and why are you being forced to look for work?

It’s time we had choice and control over where funding is spent. We don’t need parenting by people with a pecuniary interest in perpetuating the current dysfunctional system.

We don’t accept government funds

I looked carefully at the DES system when forming the company, and decided to take an ethical stance not to accept government funding for employing people with a disability.

Employing a person with a disability should be as routine for employers as anyone else. Making reasonable adjustments in the workplace happens every day for workers who are injured on the job as part of a rehabilitation and return to work program, and accessibility isn’t the nightmare employers might think it is.

Generally in Australia, it costs an average of $600 to make reasonable adjustments - for which there are Australian Government grants available to employers.

So I decided to go ahead and demonstrate a business model which provides choice and control to people with a disability, without the demonisation which goes with taxpayer funded support. Since we launched Enabled Employment, we’ve found that the demand for self determination and choice in employment options for people with a disability is outstripping the jobs available.

Perhaps part of the problem is that employers receive a subsidy for employing a person with a disability from the Australian Government, a kind of ‘compensation’ for having a ‘broken’ employee. As long as our government keeps paying people to ‘take on’ a person with a disability, the expectation of underperformance will continue.

Frankly, it’s time to stop taking the money away from people with a disability and giving it to people who just bank it, and start encouraging employers to make the reasonable adjustments which allow people to thrive in their jobs.

There’s no real diversity, no hope of reflecting the structure of our society, without the inclusion – the real and genuine inclusion – of people with a disability in the workforce.

You can read our submission at https://engage.dss.gov.au/des_reform_nov16-submissions/1482128213/

Image of Stella Young and quote saying That quote, 'the only disability in life is a bad attitude', the reason that's bullshit is ... No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshelf and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille.

I’ve written about this before, but every now and then I have an epiphany, and I have to write about it again.

 Look, there’s just no ‘diversity’ without people with a disability being included in the mix.

Every company, every organisation, and every corporate image has some sort of diversity and inclusion policy and practice these days, but people with a disability come under the ‘corporate social responsibility’ label.

Or, in other words, the ‘too hard’ basket.

Diversity and inclusion officers and representatives themselves fail to include people with a disability in their employment initiatives. I once went to a meeting where a person with a disability was espousing the virtues of a particular inclusion program as a ‘diversity and inclusion’ representative, and she opened with the remark…”There’s no disability, just a bad attitude’ – a quote from Scott Hamilton.

So what’s wrong with that statement?

What it does is tell people with a disability who are out of work that it’s their own fault they’re unemployed, and that their attitude towards work is the reason they are unemployed.

It’s my experience as the CEO of a recruitment company for people with a disability representing thousands of candidates, that it is not the attitude of people with a disability that is responsible for the appalling unemployment rates of that cohort – it is the attitude of prospective employers, and people without a disability who are responsible for providing employment opportunities for them.

Partly to blame is our definition of diversity. We include women, people who identify as LGBTI, Indigenous Australian or culturally diverse people for equal opportunity in our employment policies and statistics. But there is very rarely a mention of people with a disability in diversity policies or practice.

Stop demonising people with a disability

Let’s go back to the example of the person with a disability who used the definition ‘There is no disability except a bad attitude’ for a minute.

If people with a disability themselves are espousing this philosophy, then it gives permission to the rest of the working world to blame us as well for being unemployed. It demonises people who are unable to access work due to their disability.

And I’m done with demonising people with a disability, who are being blamed as well for an annual $800 million Disability Employment Services bill to the Australian Government. Let’s be clear, people with a disability aren’t pocketing large amounts of cash to sit around and refuse to work with a bad attitude – the money goes to Disability Employment Service providers under the government’s Disability Employment Framework.

But, sadly, a lack of corporate governance means that in some providers, there is an emphasis on spending as little as possible assisting a person with a disability into work, and maximising the profit taking from the government funding. In the Department of Social Services recent discussion paper on the Disability Employment Framework, openly acknowledged that people with a disability were being ‘parked’ – signed on to an employment services provider – and no action at all being taken to assist them back to work in order to maximise profits.

And that’s not the worst of it. For an $800 million bill, the Australian Government, spending taxpayer dollars, has absolutely no record of where the money has gone, and openly acknowledges in the Discussion Paper that there is no accountability for the considerable sum of money, and that the performance overall of the DES system is declining – meaning even less people with a disability are assisted into work.

In any other industry, this would warrant at least a Senate Inquiry, if not a Royal Commission.

But people with a disability – who cannot at this point, even change their DES provider - are being told it’s their own fault they can’t find a job and that they’re the ones who are expensive!

Clearly, if these practices continue, the unemployment rate will continue to rise, and there will be even less assistance to people genuinely in need, or employer education about disability.

It’s a matter of choice

Enabled Employment has made a submission to the Department of Social Services as part of the current discussions around Disability Employment. We are advocating for freedom of choice in providers for people who need to use them. What the public doesn’t know is that once signed on, even if you receive no service at all from your provider, you cannot change your provider.

The current discussions also canvass how to ensure each person with a disability receives the correct funding support. However, the government is considering a system which perpetuates the provider’s control over funding, as some people involved in the discussions consider that people with a disability are unable to make their own choices due to some lack of either insight or intellectual ability.

There are some people with a disability that do need assistance to make decisions about their support choices; however the vast majority do not. If we were not able to make our own choices, then surely the entire NDIS system would fail, because it is based on the knowledge that people with a disability in fact are able to make their own choices about the support they receive.

And if you are unable to make your own choices about how and where your monetary support from the Australian Government is spent in supporting you to find work, how then would you cope with actually working, and why are you being forced to look for work?

It’s time we had choice and control over where funding is spent. We don’t need parenting by people with a pecuniary interest in perpetuating the current dysfunctional system.

We don’t accept government funds

I looked carefully at the DES system when forming the company, and decided to take an ethical stance not to accept government funding for employing people with a disability.

Employing a person with a disability should be as routine for employers as anyone else. Making reasonable adjustments in the workplace happens every day for workers who are injured on the job as part of a rehabilitation and return to work program, and accessibility isn’t the nightmare employers might think it is.

Generally in Australia, it costs an average of $600 to make reasonable adjustments - for which there are Australian Government grants available to employers.

So I decided to go ahead and demonstrate a business model which provides choice and control to people with a disability, without the demonisation which goes with taxpayer funded support. Since we launched Enabled Employment, we’ve found that the demand for self determination and choice in employment options for people with a disability is outstripping the jobs available.

Perhaps part of the problem is that employers receive a subsidy for employing a person with a disability from the Australian Government, a kind of ‘compensation’ for having a ‘broken’ employee. As long as our government keeps paying people to ‘take on’ a person with a disability, the expectation of underperformance will continue.

Frankly, it’s time to stop taking the money away from people with a disability and giving it to people who just bank it, and start encouraging employers to make the reasonable adjustments which allow people to thrive in their jobs.

There’s no real diversity, no hope of reflecting the structure of our society, without the inclusion – the real and genuine inclusion – of people with a disability in the workforce.

You can read our submission at https://engage.dss.gov.au/des_reform_nov16-submissions/1482128213/

Image of Stella Young and quote saying That quote, 'the only disability in life is a bad attitude', the reason that's bullshit is ... No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshelf and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille.

Posted by Jess May | 0 comments

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