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.
Following on from my last blog post, I wanted to touch on another candidate group that we work with, Senior Australians. Senior Australians face a number of barriers to finding employment and this reflects our recent decision to expand to include those 55 and over into our candidate pool. Enabled Employment is in a unique position to break down these barriers and stereotypes and help those facing discrimination to find work.
When you turn 55, you become exposed to the stereotypes which are unfortunately held by many employers about your worth as an employee. Figures released by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) indicate complaints made on age discrimination are rising, the National Prevalence Survey results provide clear evidence of age discrimination in Australian workplaces. Over a quarter (27%) of Australians aged 50 years and over indicated that they had experienced some form of age discrimination on at least one occasion in the workplace in the last two years. The highest incidence of age discrimination was observed in the population aged between 55 and 64 years old.
The same survey by the HREOC found the most commonly experienced forms of age discrimination were limited employment, promotion or training opportunities and perceptions that older people have outdated skills, or were too slow to learn new things. Jokes and derogatory comments based on age were also amongst the most common discriminatory behaviours reported.
And if that’s not soul destroying enough, there’s also a 60 per cent chance you’ll have acquired a disability during your lifetime. In an ageing population, this means you’ll also be joining the ranks of people with a disability trying to access work, if you haven’t been able to retire by now. That opens up a whole new range of barriers for you when trying to find the right job. Any job.
There’s a significant advantage to employing a person with the right skill set, regardless of age or acquired disability, and investing a small amount of time in thinking about reasonable adjustment and flexible working conditions. That opens up access to thousands and thousands of Australians, who, at 55, don’t want to give up working, but may need some accessibility brokering to be able to perform to the best of their ability at work. And employers receive the benefit of a senior Australian’s knowledge, skills and qualifications, leadership skills and a loyal employee.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working conditions include a number of options. They include working from home, flexible hours, job sharing, and a results only work environment (where you have set goals, and you achieve them at your own pace at any time of day or night that suits you).
Our push for flexible working suits both people with a disability and senior Australians. The thing is, we keep repeating, if you get it right for people with a disability, you get it right for everyone.
How can Enabled Employment help?
Our company operates on the principle of ‘positive discrimination’. The categories we count as our candidates include senior Australians, people with a disability, former serving Australian Defence Force members and their supporting family, and other categories defined under Section 22 of the Anti-Discrimination Act. Everybody in our candidate database faces some sort of preconceived stereotype when seeking employment, which becomes a barrier to re-entering or entering the workplace.
What we do with the employers who advertise with us is called ‘accessibility brokering’. We’ll sit down with you and find out what flexible working conditions, aids or equipment you need to do the job if you’re successful in your application and interview, and negotiate your flexible working conditions with the employer.
As we find more and more employers who recognise that work opportunities are often limited for all the inclusion categories on our website, we change the conversation, challenge the stereotypes, and undertake accessibility brokering. This gives people a decent chance at a job, and ensures you’re not set up to fail because the right conditions are in place for you to be safe, and comfortable in your new job.
Changing the narrative
We have a long way to go in changing the narrative around our inclusion groups, and Australian employers need fresh ideas, and a new definition of ‘diversity’. While employers continue to include women, LGBTI, multicultural background and Indigenous Australians in their diversity policy but leave out senior Australians, and people with a disability, it doesn’t represent true diversity. Diversity is about reflecting the community in our society in our workforce, and no community is without senior Australians, people with a disability, or ex-Australian Defence Force members.
Until we do change the narrative – and the definition of true diversity – there remains a significant portion of the population that are disadvantaged by being unable to access work.
And it’s hard to prove. Unless you can get a specific comment in writing from a job interview that clearly is discriminatory and not a judgement based on your skill set, experience and qualifications, you have no hope of claiming discrimination. And even if you do, the employer concerned may or may not learn their lesson. Our Anti-Discrimination Act is clear in its intent, but rather toothless in applying real penalties.
We continue to advise government, policy makers and employers to change the way we think about work, in a digital age – where work is accessible to all using technology at home, and teleworking. At the same time, we want to continue to put people into work. The imperative for us to do so is business related – as we accept no government funding, we depend on putting people into work to survive as a business. Our core function is to ensure people have opportunity, and by raising the issues in public we will continue to raise awareness.
The aim of the entire exercise is to ‘normalise’ the recruitment and retention of our inclusion groups, so that it is considered by employers as a natural part of their recruitment process to ensure candidates with a disability and senior Australians, and our other inclusion groups, are specifically acknowledged in their diversity policy and their recruitment processes.
At the end of the day, it’s down to us to achieve social change. That won’t happen overnight, but we are extremely gratified to find so many businesses in Australia, so far, that agree with us.
We’re here with more than a purpose for business, we’re here to change the game, and win the hearts and minds of employers all over the country. And we’re determined to make it happen.
I have been banging on for the last few blog posts about the need to change the narrative around disability and areas where we believe the support provided by the Government can improve. This month I’m going to talk about one of our other candidate groups that is very close to my heart. As the granddaughter of a Major in the Australian Army, I had seen all too often the impacts from the latest conflicts and was very aware of the difference a job could make for someone who was transitioning out of service.
Helping our Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and their families to find employment was the first area we expanded our services to from people with a disability and I could not be more proud of the work the Enabled Employment team has done to get our people into jobs. Since January 1 2017, not only have we advertised 170 jobs to our candidate groups from the fantastic businesses we work with, we have put 29 ex-ADF personnel and their families into jobs in the last two months alone. This is real results, and has in some circumstances, been life changing for the people we are supporting.
I wanted to touch on today, why we believe this is such an important area for us to focus on and why we run our business privately rather than as a charity or reliant on Government funding.
Why employ our veterans?
1999 was a turning point for the ADF, with an overseas conflict deployment of more than five thousand troops to Timor, the largest since the Vietnam War. In the following eight years the ADF experienced the largest period of operational activity in more than a decade. In 2001, Afghanistan came in to the mix and from this deployment, along with The War in Iraq (2003 – 2007), we saw the need for our ADF to be involved in two active Global theatres of conflict, on top of other multiple operational peacekeeping and peacekeeping requirements.
At the same time, ADF personnel were increasingly the first we called on for domestic and regional assistance due to natural disasters and national initiatives, increasing the tempo on all personnel. As a consequence, we now have many young veterans who have seen multiple deployments of 6-8 months, in multiple theatres of operations, including conflict and relief assistance & peacekeeping roles. We have a young generation of veterans and their families, who have seen an extraordinary service tempo in diverse and different theatres, requiring multiple absences from home and family.
To date we still have troops on Operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Lebanon, Egypt, South Sudan, the Middle East Region, The South West Pacific, South China Sea/Indian Ocean and on Border Protection duties.
We have sent our serving men and women into danger, where they have faced innumerable threats to their person, and where some have been killed or injured while serving our country whilst many have been impacted in some way by their service. Whether or not their mission was peacekeeping or relief assistance, domestic or global, the results are similar; and today we continue to send them.
How we look after our servicemen and women when they leave the Australian Defence Force is a mark of how we, as a society, respect the personal sacrifice they have made through their desire to serve community on behalf of our country.
Why is Enabled Employment assisting ADF veterans into work?
We see employment opportunities as a vital part of looking after our servicemen and women, and supporting their families. A job contributes to continued mental health by providing an income, a structured activity, a sense of purpose and personal worth and social contact. A job goes a long way towards maintaining physical and mental good health, preventing marriage and family breakdowns, combating known problems such as veteran homelessness and/or declining mental health. Finding and providing assistance to access the right conditions for work for all veterans should be a community obligation in recognition in their service on our behalf. After all, they have some of the most amazing skills, have demonstrated leadership and followership, and have a dedication that is an asset to anyone.
And for families of serving men and women, who routinely hold down the homefront during those times of absences, enduring stress over their loved ones, as well as moving multiple times with their spouse or parent on posting; we recognise the disruption to careers and study. We are family members of former serving personnel, and our own experiences have shown us the difficulty faced by family members seeking work when an employer looks at your chequered employment history, often assuming you won’t be in the job for long because your partner or parent will be posted again.
Our model of business
Enabled Employment uses positive discrimination and operates as a private company. That means we have an outcome based model – if we don’t put people into work – we don’t survive as a business. This gives us an urgent imperative to ensure we find work for the ex-ADF personnel and their family members who sign up as candidates.
We respect the right of ADF veterans to have a legitimate employment service which does not rely on government funding, nor charity donations but provides a service grounded on actions and outcomes, not inputs and outputs, which respects the career of every individual. We have chosen a business model that charges employers for a legitimate service that demands results, and employers who advertise through us understand that employing ADF personnel makes good business sense because of the skills and leadership qualities they have.
We know ADF personnel and their family members are proud of their service, and we believe it should not be a charity donation to employ an ex-serviceman or woman, but a valued privilege. We can see that people are having difficulty with the transition from military to civilian life, and we want to ensure there are job opportunities available with inclusive employers.
But doesn’t the government look after our ex-ADF?
The federal government’s recent policy initiative to promote the inclusion of ex-ADF members in employment was nothing more than a promise that:
If you disclose you are ex-ADF that you will be interviewed for a job in the Australian Public Service if you apply for one.
Like the ‘disclosure’ idea for people with a disability applying for jobs in the Australian Public Service guaranteeing an interview – all it does is increase disclosure rates and ensure bean counting is possible so the government can tick a box saying it is doing ‘something’ about veteran employment. It doesn’t increase the likelihood that ex-ADF personnel will get a job.
What can we as a nation do now?
The conditions of service of an Australian Defence Force personnel member who is transitioning to a civilian career are not all publicly available. Anecdotal evidence from some former ADF and their family members indicates that they aren’t aware of all their entitlements when transitioning often because they can’t access them in a format compatible with their work computers.
And if they do try to access them, the paperwork can take months, bogged down in a bureaucratic process which doesn’t measure successful outcomes reflecting how many transitioning ADF have been assisted, but measures how much money was spent by the department for their annual reporting against key performance indicators which are funding based, not person centric. While there are no caps on funding, in an economy with a ballooning budget deficit, the pressure is, after all, on saving government expenditure.
What we do know, is serving personnel who are transitioning to the civilian workforce are entitled to the following:
- Less than 12 years of service.
- Two day Job Search Preparation course, 2 hours one-on-one coaching, 5 days approved absence.
- 12 to less than 18 years of service.
- Two day Job Search Preparation course, 2 hours one-on-one coaching, up to $1,000 Career Transition Training, or $1,100 Career Transition Management Coaching and 10 days Approved Absence.
- 18 or more years of service, or Compulsory Retirement Age irrespective of length of service.
- Up to $5,320 Career Transition Training or $2,820 Career Transition Management Coaching (CTMC), $253 CV coaching and 23 days Approved Absence.
- Medically Discharged
- Up to $5,320 Career Transition Training, $2,820 Career Transition Management Coaching, $253 CV Coaching, and 23 days Approved Absence.
The Defence Transition Handbook, which you can find here http://www.defence.gov.au/DCO/_Master/documents/Transition/ADF-Transition-Handbook.pdf is a publicly available document which outlines some of the entitlements due to the ADF upon leaving service.
Where to in the future?
We want to see the issue of employment for former ADF members raised into the public spotlight. We are focussing our efforts on changing the narrative around jobs for our ADF personnel post service with employers, as we have the conversation with them one by one, or from a public platform.
We believe employing our ADF members post service should be a clear policy from business, and governments. Our focus remains outcomes and impact based, finding the jobs and putting former ADF personnel and their family members into meaningful work. But we will also take every opportunity we can to ensure we keep the conversation public, constructive, and respectful of those who have served Australia. To do otherwise, as a society, is to dishonour the sacrifice and service of ADF members, and their supporting family.
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/
If 4.2 million Australians have a disability, as recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics 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).”
― 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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,
- 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.
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.
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.
 4430.0 - Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2015
 Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales
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