There’s a lot of chatter on various different social media platforms today about ‘equality’. Generally, equality is defined as equal opportunity for women, LGBTI, cultural or religious groups. Strong advocacy and decades of organising have given these groups a voice, and raised awareness of the issues. People still rage against inequality, rightfully so, and talk of the glass ceiling, and lobby for better work opportunities.
But do a google search on the term ‘disability employment policy private sector Australia’, and for the first ten pages of results you’ll find two things; government diversity policies – necessitated by Australia’s signature on the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights, and supported employment providers in Australia.
Ironically, those with the strongest policies on disability employment – the public sector – seem to be losing the ability to employ people with disability, with Australian Government employment statistics showing a dismal participation rate, which has dropped alarmingly in the last decade.
But, back to the search engine - it’s not until the tenth Google results page or later that you’ll find some of our more progressive Australian private sector employers with specific inclusion strategies for people with disability.
While diversity policies exist in the private sector, the definition of ‘diversity’ is often vague, and acknowledges the minority groups with strong lobbying activists, LGBTI, multicultural and religious groups.
Disability is sometimes missing entirely.
Why is that?
The public sector and political approach to disability employment relies heavily on the not-for-profit ‘supported’ employment model. This model uses subsidies from the Australian Government to fill roles and ensure adaptive technology, workplace modifications and training are undertaken prior to placing a person with a disability in employment. This is a valuable, and necessary part, of disability employment in Australia’s public, private and community sectors.
But it’s only partly the answer. And it’s expensive, and relies on an employer being ready to ‘adapt’ to a person with disability working for them. With a lack of awareness in diversity policies, or no diversity policies at all, disability employment participation rates have little to no chance of improving from the current unemployment rate for people with disability. Seventy five per cent of people with disability in Australia don’t need supported employment, aren’t covered by the NDIS, and have skills ranging from post-graduate degrees through to Certificate IV’s, and many – who acquire disability in their lives, have a great deal of work experience prior to incurring disability.
What should we change?
There’s really only one thing that needs to change. We all do it. We all check our work emails from home, or finish off that proposal or tender from home, or work on our graphic design or publication from home to stay on track. We might keep it a secret, but we all do it. Most of us can log in from home, and we can’t help ourselves.
It’s called telework, and it’s the easiest adaptation anyone needs to make to improve disability employment participation rates.
Teleworking removes lots of barriers for people with disability.
Transport can be a major hassle if you don’t drive, and rely on public transport. It’s also exhausting for some people with disability, eating into their energy reserves and reducing their possible working hours.
Then there’s entering an office. You might have a fully disability access compliant office, but I guarantee there’ll be something that presents a barrier – mostly fire doors – which are heavy and not able to be modified to assist access for a person with disability.
Your systems may not be compatible with vision assistive technology. While access for service dogs is legislated, people still complain about animals in the workplace – including guide dogs for the vision impaired.
Then there’s the stereotypes people with disability need to contend with and challenge. Each disability presents it’s own difficulties, whether it’s social anxiety, physical disability, vision impairment, or a mental health issue. But the biggest difficulty by far is dealing with people’s reactions to it, when it’s disclosed. Some of us have no choice but to disclose – it’s obvious, but some people have ‘invisible’ disability, and have a choice about whether to disclose or not.
What’s the answer?
Let’s just admit it, our definition of diversity doesn’t automatically include disability when we write our policies, unless we’re in government or the community sector. And when it does, the focus is on adapting the person to the workplace, not the other way around. We need to review our definitions in light of the growing number of people with disability – which is set to grow with our ageing population.
Teleworking is an ideal way to provide employment opportunities to people with disability. People who also have years of work experience, qualifications and a great desperation and willingness to work. Telework opportunities mean people with disability have true flexibility in their working conditions. Working from home in an environment which is socially and physically comfortable ensures we are able to work at our own pace, at our own time, and with safety and comfort.
Think about people with disability next time you log on to work from home.