In a democracy such as ours, community consultation is an important part of government policy making and can be a catalyst for change. Community consultation can take many forms, advisory groups, in-face meetings with community leaders at forums, calls for submissions to inquiries to establish the depth and range of issues confronting community members and how to legislate to solve the problems.
Lately, there seems to have been a rash of consultation with the community on the employment of people with a disability. Two rounds of consultation by the Department of Social Services into the reform of the Disability Employment Framework, and now a Reference Group to whom you can make further submissions. Then there’s the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination against Older Australians and Australians with Disability – the ‘Willing to Work’ Inquiry, which is now being followed up with a round of consultations by the Human Rights Commissioner on ‘Shaping our Future: discussions on disability rights’. A separate Inquiry is being held by the ACT Government on the ‘Employment of People with a Disability’
We’ve made submissions into as many of these inquiries as we can, and I am appreciative of being on the Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability and Carers.
Many submissions by the community have been made, and raising the issues confronting people with a disability for the formation of effective public policy for social change is essential. It is fantastic to see that consultation on such a wide scale is finally acknowledging there’s a problem we need to address.
What are the outcomes?
As a former public servant, I know these things take time. The formation of a New Policy Proposal can take a while. Validating proposals and testing policy outcomes prior to enacting them – such as the NDIS for example – can be a long process. Submissions for funding have to be made to the Federal Treasury for consideration in forming the Federal Budget.
It depends on whether or not governments decide to make new policy proposals in an era where the budget deficit is ballooning. Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step, but actionable outcomes are what bring change, and in forming social policy, making the right decisions by all concerned is often difficult. How do you reconcile differing opinions in the community about the right way forward, and how do you find best practice in any industry or field?
Without speculating on the federal budget, I doubt there has been sufficient time for any initiatives to be funded in this year’s budget.
Given that, what can be done to address the issues now, and whose responsibility is it?
Employment issues aren’t confined to people with a disability, as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has found. Employment discrimination is experienced by many groups in the community, including ex Australian Defence Force personnel and their family members, senior Australians, carers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
As the mandarins ponder these questions, in the light of the budget deficit, Australia has an OECD statistic that is part of the answer for people with a disability and others, to access work. The imperative to act comes not only from the community but the international community of policy makers, who wonder why in Australia, when 82.6 % of households have internet access (9th highest from 27 countries), we rank 22nd out of 27 countries reporting to the OECD in employing people with a disability.
If we had the 9th highest level of internet access in 2010 in the OECD, and were 22nd out of 27 in employment for people with a disability, why are we continuing, as a society, to stubbornly refuse to allow working from home as part of the answer to employment barriers?
Are we prepared to wait?
Employment discrimination is not a government only issue. All employers can take the initiative immediately, in the private, community and public sectors without waiting for new policy proposals or budget funding from the Australian government.
Recently, an article in the mainstream media highlighted the reluctance of some federal government to use teleworking for work/life balance for currently employed public servants. Federal Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd was quoted as saying there are some management culture, organisational culture in the public sector that presented to be a barrier for the practise of telework, and cited managers wanting to see their staff from 9-5 every day as an example.
If telework opportunities were to be made available for people with a disability, carers and seniors, and the families of those who have served, we could immediately begin to address the unemployment and non-participation rates of people with a disability in the labour market, enable carers to balance their work and their caring responsibilities, senior Australians to access work opportunities with acquired disability or illness, ensure work opportunities for people in regional and remote areas, support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to go home to country, and support the families of our Australian Defence Force personnel with access to a career path via teleworking and the possibility of not having to change employers when accompanying a partner or family on posting.
It’s time to open up the reasons that employers will consider telework. Work/life balance is not the only reason for organisations (whether public, private or community) to consider to enable people to telework. Teleworking solves access issues for many reasons, for many people. It keeps office overheads down, ensures people are safe in their home environment, and able to work while managing a disability, an illness, caring responsibilities or because they are living in a regional or remote area, or have accompanied a spouse on posting.
In a digital age, where video conferencing is as simple as using Skype, and the NBN rollout continues there really is no reason other than cultural and organisational attitude stopping us.
Time to log on, Australia.
As people with disability have suffered, and continue to suffer discrimination and prejudice in society, and in the workplace, it is understandable to hear the frustration. Frustration about inequality, channelled positively, can lead to activism, which can take many forms. Social media has made activism, advocacy and awareness-raising much easier, but it is not always positive. Recent campaigns for issues such as the ‘naked selfie’ for cancer demonstrates that activism can be positive and that social media can be a force for real change. What can the community of people with disabilities do to emulate a positive use of social media?
Fund and Awareness Raising
The Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014 for ALS/MND is a superb example of raising awareness of a debilitating illness. Charity information, websites and campaigns can only go so far, and people must want to find out information in the first place about a particular issue, and information may often come off as ‘marketing speak’. That’s where a novelty action such as the ice bucket challenge can be far more engaging. The action of dousing oneself in icy water has been compared to the physical effects of ALS/MND on the body.
One of the greatest additions to internet culture in recent years has allowed anybody to become a writer. Free blog sites such as wordpress, blogger, live journal and blog.com have allowed unprecedented access for people to tell their story to the world. That’s what inspired Eva Markvoort (a young lady who suffered from Cystic Fibrosis until her death in 2010) to live her life to the full and encourage others to do the same. She pursued an acting career, not letting her disability or the persistent rejections of directors expressing concern about the impact of her illness on the role for which she was applying, get in the way. Her death led to a discussion on Cystic Fibrosis in the Canadian Parliament, the first time the subject had come up in six years. Those who do not or cannot write are turning to videos to share their experience. One of the most prolific vloggers (the term for a video blogger) on YouTube is Robyn Lambird, a person living with cerebral palsy she vlogs about her experiences of CP, fashion, education, social attitudes and any other subject that takes her fancy.
In a bid to make social media more accessible, and to provide a global support network for the widest range of people with disabilities, there is now a dedicated social network. DisabledCommunity.net links together people all over the world, not just those with disabilities, but also their carers. It aims to do for people with disability what Facebook has done for practically everyone, providing a positive platform for people to meet and stay in touch no matter where in the world they are.
What’s Your Message?
The key here is positivity. People respond to a positive spirit, the novelty, an engaging medium and attitude. Charities do a lot of great work in raising funds and awareness for causes but that is only half the story; the internet provides a great opportunity for people with disabilities to aid in breaking down the barriers, to show that the person is not the disability, to share real stories of real lives.
Let us know about your blog… We’re interested to see who amongst you has been blogging, and how you’ve approached thinking about how to change attitudes towards people with a disability, and how far your thoughts have reached. Have you stimulated a positive discussion about inclusion, and the expanding of ‘workplace diversity policy’ to include people with a disability? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you’re doing in the world of blogging, or v-logging.
Setting up a home office may seem simple, but it is easy to overlook some of the most fundamental requirements that would be second nature when working in an office. Before embarking on working from home you need to make sure that your working environment is safe, comfortable and suitable for your individual needs.
The working conditions of the place where you work can be easily overlooked. The room needs to be light but minimising glare. Working by a window might give you maximum light but it is inadvisable to work in direct sunlight as this will lead to eye strain – as will too much shadow.
Room temperature is also a factor. In an office workplace, an employer is legally obliged to keep a room above a certain temperature. Within your home, you naturally want to be comfortable so do not overlook that a room might be too warm or too cold for you to work effectively.
Both the chair and the desk must be adjustable for personal comfort. People are of different builds and heights and there will be different opinions on personal comfort within the boundaries of what is deemed a healthy environment.
If you are primarily using a laptop, you might need a stand to raise the screen to a more comfortable level; any extended period of use of a laptop will also require a mouse.
It is very important to take (typically 15 minutes out of a two hour period should be spent away from the screen). This does not just mean coffee breaks or lunch breaks, but also the need to mix up tasks within the working day; it is easy for work-from-home employees to lose track of time or to skip these breaks to get a task finished, especially when not conforming to a regular working-day format.
When it comes to laptops, these are designed primarily for short periods of working time. As well as the above mentioned stand and the need for a mouse, you will need to ensure that the table or desk you place it on is suitable. For a laptop especially and because of the potential greater strains on the body, it is necessary to take frequent short breaks away from the computer – this is also vital purely to keep active. It might be a good idea to work your exercise routine into your day. This means that you will need to work out a clear structure to your working day.
Distractions are the major problem with teleworking. You are always tempted to have that lie-in, to meet your friend for coffee, to have an extended lunch break to do household chores, to visit your parents, to check your social media, check your emails… and if you have children then your day is going to have to work around them. What you need is a structure to your working day and week. Make a plan of your weekly tasks, use a database or a spreadsheet to plan how long each task takes and whether they have deadlines.
If you live alone you are going to be working in isolation most of the time. Humans are social creatures and need interaction. Ideally, you could work social plans into your daily pattern. Certainly arrange to meet friends for coffee but set yourself a target of what you are going to achieve before you leave the house, or what you are going to do to “make up the time”. Strike the balance between work and play but do not let distractions consume you.
Is there anything you think I've missed? Leave me a comment below.
Economic downturn and unemployment needn’t be the end of the world. This present economic downturn coupled with the always online connectivity has given some people the perfect opportunity to start freelance careers. Before you consider it, there’s some things you need to about working from home:
- Your working environment is crucial: You need the right desk and comfortable chair, a well-lit room away from everything else where you can focus on your work
- Structure: You are in charge of when you work (often meaning more hours) and take breaks. You are going to need structure – but that structure might change week to week
- Always at work: Your home is your workplace so “taking your work home” is unavoidable. It’s tempting to work weekends and evenings when you are bored and you will need to sometimes, try to do it only when it is necessary
- Your human contact will drop considerably: The working relationships of the office you have become used to will end so it is down to you to make a concerted effort to see friends and family
- Distractions are everywhere: The internet for the latest news, the neighbour who needs your help, your mother checking up on you, your children wanting you to play, the television, the radio, the friend who wants to meet for coffee, the sunshine is so inviting isn’t it?
- Free Technology: It’s everywhere so there’s no need to shell out on expensive software packages. As you start out, you’ll be on a limited budget. Skype and its clones are perfect for IM, phone calls and video conferencing, OpenOffice is a great MS Office clone
- Negotiation is an art: Unless you are working for an agency that will pay a set amount per job, you will come up against people who’ll knock your price down; you’ll be tempted to undersell your skills to secure a good contract. Stand up for what you are worth but be flexible
- Your working philosophy will change: It’s all results now, not hours. You can take Monday and Friday off but you might have to work through the weekend next week. It’s all about how much you achieve
- Communication: Most of your clients will be remote, sometimes hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. Producing high quality work is essential but if you are difficult to get hold of, late with deadlines and rarely answer emails that will affect their opinion of your professionalism
- You are your own boss: Aside from some of those things above, you will reap the rewards of your success but you can also be the agent of your downfall. There’s no passing the buck or turning a job over because “it’s out of my pay grade”
Do you have any tips on working from home? Leave a comment with your best ones below.
To celebrate the launch of Enabled Employment, I'm going to post a few blog articles over the next few weeks with the first one setting the scene of disability in Australia. Some of these facts and figures you won't believe. How is a country as advanced as Australia failing so miserably in empowering and supporting people with a disability?
One in Five People in Australia has a disability which is in the region of 4 million people. Keeping that information in mind, the following facts should be eye-opening:
- There is 54.3% workforce participation for people with a disability compared to 84% for people without a disability. A separate study showed that employment levels were 39.8% and 79.4% respectively
- As recently as 2010, the OECD rated Australia 21st out of 29 countries for employing people with disability – the lowest in the developed world
- Two thirds of people with disabilities are earning less than $320 per week compared to just one third of the general population. As a consequence of that...
- People with disabilities in Australia are more likely to be living in poverty than any other minority group
- Australia recently ranked 27th out of 27 countries for people with disability living on or near the poverty line. The global average is 22%, Australia’s is over double that at 45%
- On average, employees with a disability are less likely to take unscheduled time off, less likely to use sick leave and when in employment, on average stay in a job longer than their non-disabled counterparts
- The unemployment rate in 2009 was: 5.1% for the general population and 7.9% for people with disability – being registered unemployed means those individuals were willing and able to work
- People with mental illness had the lowest employment participation rates than any other disability group: employment participation rate in 2003 was 28.2%. Compare this to statistics at number 1 in this list
- People with mental illness had the highest unemployment rate of any disability group: 19.5%. Compare to statistics at number 7 in this list
- 48% of Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission concern disability and are made against businesses
Surprised yet? It's pretty shocking isn't it? I'd love to hear what you think about these statisitics, leave a comment below and keep the conversation going.