I was at a meeting recently, where the topic of employment for people with a disability was being discussed. The meeting had representatives from all areas of business, government and the not-for-profit sector.
I was mightily surprised, in fact, that the business leaders at that meeting saw the answer to the astonishingly shameful employment rate of people with a disability as philanthrophy.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a right time and a right place for philanthropy in our society. It achieves great things, and enables organisations to fund necessary and vital relief for people in our society.
But it doesn’t actually employ a person in your business. It doesn’t help anyone enter your specific workforce with a disability.
The problem is, we’re expecting the person with the disability to adapt to our ‘normal’ workplaces. And it’s easier to throw money at the problem rather than look at our own businesses and start to include people with a disability in our workplace.
The expectation is that the person will be needy, expensive, unreliable and constantly needing supervisory time. Given this stereotypical impression, it seems easier for corporate social responsibility programs to grant large sums of money to other organisations to ‘deal with’ the problem of unemployment for people with a disability.
If it costs, on average, $600 per person with a disability to make reasonable adjustments in any workplace – for which a government grant is available – then why donate hundred of thousands of dollars to a system that doesn’t work, namely, the charities the deliver Disability Employment Services? Why not bite the bullet now and look for the skills, abilities and aptitudes that make people with a disability the exact opposite of the stereotype you think we are?
Establishing an internship program for people with a disability, for example, is a much more practical and cheaper way forward in addressing unemployment levels for people with a disability. We train graduates – many people with a disability hold academic qualifications – and we have indigenous internships, how about disability internships? Paid ones? That’s what would change a life, and change attitudes and stereotypes in the workforce. Here’s what you need to know:
- People with a disability take less sick leave
- People with a disability make fewer workers’ compensation claims
- People with a disability are more loyal to a company over time
- People with a disability only need reasonable adjustment and flexible work in order to make the same, if not better, contribution to your business as any other worker
- People with a disability are lateral thinkers – they’ve had to be in order to manage their lives with a disability.
Enabled Employment have been nominated for, and won awards, locally, nationally and globally, so that we can raise the issue of employment for marginalised groups on big stages.
Our Media and Liaison Manager, Chief Information Officer and me, are all people with a disability. If we three can run our business as a globally award winning and recognised one only 2 years after launching, just imagine what a person with a disability can do for your business – if you give them the chance.
It's no use throwing money at someone else to take care of the problem.
What we need is attitude change. That only happens where employers take charge, establish innovative programs such as internships, and change attitudes in the workplace by employing those with different abilities.
It's your responsibility to affect change in the workforce, not somebody else's.
So what can you do to change the hopes and lives of a person with a disability? We’ve run internship programs before, and we know how to do it. We have thousands of candidates with academic and other qualifications on our website waiting for a job offer with an employer who is willing to take responsibility for changing the world with us.
Touch base with us now.
Most businesses ultimately are concerned with one thing: profitability, and whether they made more this year than last year and how to improve next year. Whether in a period of growth or recession, most business discourse concerns the net worth and profitability of a business; most will rarely make business decisions that may ultimately cost the business too much money for too low a potential for reward.
Employment of people with disabilities has been seen in the past – not as investment in human resources – but as a net cost; an American report in 2009 found that this was an attitude not just at the very top, but at all levels in a business’ hierarchy. Aside from being discriminatory, it is also false. Many costing myths exist regarding employment of people with disabilities.
This is the most common assumption, that there are greater safety issues when employing people with disabilities and therefore they represent a greater cost to insure. Firstly, there is the assumption here that insurance premium cost is based purely and entirely on the risk assessment portion of the insurance premium; certainly, risk of injury is one factor but it is not the only factor – the majority of a premium is calculated on likelihood of accidents based on the work the business carries out.
Even if insurance premiums were calculated purely on the risk of accident in the work place, statistics show that people with disabilities are marginally less likely to be the victim of an accident at work. The difference is slight but the common myth that they represent a greater insurance risk is unfounded either way. People with disability therefore represent a lower insurance risk and lower insurance costs.
One of the arguments regarding the cost of employing people with disabilities is that it is either prohibitively expensive or an unnecessary expense for the employment of just a handful of people. The first is certainly not true as there are a number of regional and national schemes and funds available to either completely cover the cost of modification of the workplace or a substantial fund that they can apply to for a bursary through the Employment Assistance Fund and often represents a one off change for the future.
In the unlikely event that a business would be refused financial assistance for workplace modification, it has been calculated that the cost per person averages out at under $500. A UK based disability employment organisation quotes £184 and US statistics quote a similar figure. The investment is highly unlikely to see the business operating at a loss when we consider that people with disability have a lower attrition rate (are more likely to stay in a job) and are more productive.
Human Resource Costs
Workplace modification includes adjustments to doors, installation of ramps, lowering steps and other physical modifications. Human Resource costs come with certain extra considerations for people with disability – new computer hardware (such as a special keyboard or a mouse) software (for people with poor eyesight for example), or specialist office equipment (desk, chair etc). All of this equipment in Australia is covered under the Employment Assistance Fund.
An in depth academic study of common myths proving a barrier to more businesses employing people with disability is here (login required): http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hrm.20211/abstract
This one examines the relative costs and benefits of employing people with disability: http://dro.deakin.edu.au/view/DU:30001618?print_friendly=true
There is so much advice around the web on what constitutes a good resume and what elements should or should not go into one; the truth is though that there is no one size fits all formula for creating the perfect resume. It is not a case of getting everything in the right order and “bingo” the job is yours.
The Purpose of a Resume
The most important thing to remember about a resume is that it is about getting you to the interview stage. Certainly, the relevant decision makers will look at the resume after the interview to compare candidates but ultimately, it needs to grab their attention. What should go into the resume?
Qualifications: in this competitive employment marketplace, employers want to see the education-based experiences. A degree in English can say much in itself but if you are applying for a communications role, you need to give academic examples that are relevant.
Work experience: and not just from previous job though this is very important, but any experience that may be relevant to the role. This could be from voluntary work, personal interests or hobbies.
Abilities are different from experience in that you know what you can do, even if you cannot demonstrate it through on the job experience, through voluntary roles or in your qualifications.
Highlight Your Abilities
The key to a modern resume is experiences, particularly practical experiences and the identifiable abilities that you gain and have gained from those experiences. Employers want to see that you will be an asset to the business and this is how you need to market your abilities – those that are relevant and how they are relevant.
The first thing to do is look at the job description. Most will state the key skills that are required in the role. Though some will be generic “good organisational skills”, “works under own initiative” and “flexible”, some will be more specific than this: “good knowledge of MS Excel” for example. If you have a certificate of training to a higher level for that software package, or you have learnt advanced features of the software and can list an example, then make it relevant: “I designed a stock programme in Excel to keep track of petty cash” you will have demonstrated a core ability.
One element that people now include in their resumes is a list of highlights. These can be changed and tailored to each application; listing seven or eight bullet points that are relevant will present the employer with what they are looking for without having to search your resume for it and you may expand on these points later in the resume if you need to. The highlights bullet list should be a mix of experience, qualifications and achievements.
If the role is similar to one you have had before, or is a niche job that you have qualifications for, then imagine yourself already in the role. List the skills that you believe will be relevant to the job based on your previous work experience.
I was asked a question the other day that made me think. I get told constantly that I have a different way of thinking, and it is so different that it’s enlightening. But why is that? I always thought I followed the common principles of common sense, but after mulling it over and chatting with my staff, who are also like minded, I thought I should write something about it.
The question I was asked was ’do you have a breakdown in your database on the severities and types of disabilities your candidates have?’ My immediate response was a bit of a laugh and ’no, of course not!’, but in my head I was thinking ‘Why are they asking me this?’
After a moment I realised I was going to have to elaborate on why, because it was assumed it would be a standard information category we would record.
My response was, and is, I don’t care what a person’s disability is, I care about who is the best candidate for the job. I explained that I could give a breakdown on the skills people have, because when we want to fill a role we need this information, and I also need to understand our skills base for when I’m talking with an employer about what we can offer them as a recruitment agency. But why does it matter what the person’s disability is?
Yes, should the candidate get the role or have special requirements for the interview this might be relevant information, but again, we don’t need to know what someone’s disability is, we just need to know what flexibility or reasonable adjustment they may need to perform the best they possibly can in the role.
Which brings me to another thing we are constantly asked, ‘what is the candidate’s disability?’ We respond with ‘it doesn’t matter’ and we are met with ‘but I need to know to make sure I do everything right for the candidate’.
We explain that this doesn’t matter for two reasons: firstly, because when you disclose someone’s diagnostic label (always with the permission of the individual concerned) the unconscious or conscious bias beast will raise it head. And secondly, everyone is an individual and all an employer needs to know is what that person needs to do the job at the best of their ability. I’ll get to the first one later, but let’s think about the second one.
One thing we do for businesses and candidates before anyone starts in a role (or attends an interview if it’s needed), is broker accessibility requirements. We include information and an open platform to discuss what is needed for the candidate to perform at their best, this can include written information, separate conversations between a candidate and a business, right down to an open conversation if this is what the candidate wants. Ninety five per cent of these requests are for flexibility: for example, I need to start and finish earlier as twilight can affect my vision, or, I need to start late because I have anxiety in the morning, or even, I can work four days in the office but need to work one day from home as I am too exhausted from travel each day.
Yes, occasionally we do have physical access requirements that needs attention, but these are the minority, but that seems to be the thing that businesses worry about the most. They worry about the cost, the inconvenience, whether it will be enough? Again this is not such a big deal. My Media Liaison and Communications Manager worked in a government office which refused to contemplate a request for a change to the heavy manual open fire doors between the office and the kitchen. Sharon uses a walking stick and had no trouble opening the door at most times, but when carrying a coffee it was impossible to open the door holding a walking stick in one hand and a coffee in the other. She had to ask someone for assistance to open the door. You would think was no big deal but when it happens a couple of times a day the person nearest to the door was the only person available to help, and eventually made a complaint about having to open the door. What’s that? Yes, the person with no disability was the one that made the complaint! So from here, matters went into a tailspin, how were they going to afford the change to automatic sliding doors? What about the inconvenience to staff? Would these sliding doors meet the fire safety requirements?
You know what was funny about this? No one asked Sharon what she wanted. When it got down to it, she would have suggested that a shelf be put in near the door where she could place her coffee, open the door, walk out and then grab her coffee, letting the door shut. The solution was a $10 shelf, not thousands of dollars worth of renovations to the kitchen door.
This shines a massive light on why we always tell our businesses to just ask the person with a disability what they need. Not what they need for their disability, what they personally, as a human being, need.
There is a Government fund set up for this exact reason, so even changing to sliding doors would be no cost to the business – but that’s another story for another day.
So let’s get back to thinking about people with disabilities as a person, a human, a human with hopes and dreams, a human that can tell you what they need rather than you making assumptions for them. My first point earlier about assumptions and conscious and unconscious biases.
One thing I really struggle with is the demand for people to know ‘diagnostic labels’. What does it matter if Joe Bloggs has Multiple Sclerosis or Jane Doe has a mental illness? My thoughts are that once you know what a person’s diagnostic label is you start making assumptions about what that means. I’ll use my own example. I have severe anxiety, always have, and have examples of it included in my first memories. It has never affected my ability to be a fantastic employee, in fact it made me a better employee because I would throw myself at a project with everything I had. I would rather be working than anxious. For this reason I moved up the ranks quickly and found myself as an Executive Level 2 in the Government at the age of 31 which is when I had my first child.
And at that point, I was diagnosed with post partum thyroiditis, which meant my medication wasn’t working and I was living a 24 hour nightmare of panic disorder. The way my anxiety presents itself is as de-realisation, a state where you feel like you are waking up from a dream and nothing is real – and it’s terrifying! So of course, I wanted to get back to work ASAP and I did. The problem was I couldn’t work full time and had to disclose my disability.
And then the assumptions started, no one wanted to get me stressed, no one wanted to overburden me, no one wanted to ‘set me off’. So you know what happened? I was given nothing to do, given no staff and then avoided at all costs and cut out of the loop on the business of the branch. This was the worst possible thing for me, and my mental health spiralled out of control until I approached suicide. Fortunately for me, Enabled Employment sprung up in my head and was my saving grace. But, you know what my answer would have been if I had been asked? Give me more work, give me more staff, give me things that are challenging and stress me out! Because, if I’m worrying about those things I have no time to be anxious and I will get better!
Every single disability affects a person in a different way, we are all individuals and disability doesn’t discriminate. In fact it is the only minority group you can join at any stage in your life!
So why are people barraging businesses with information about everything that can go wrong when a person with a disability starts working with them? People with a disability are statistically less likely to have something go wrong than their peers so why do we set them up for low expectations or failure? Why can’t we just ask what they need? Treat them like the human being that they are, and cut out the fear and assumptions.
What we all need to do is just apply the principles of common sense. Flexibility in a role should be a given unless there are operational requirements that make it impossible. Not only is this good for people with disabilities it’s good for everyone. Have you asked your employee’s what they need to perform the best that they can in their role?
There’s a good vibe on the factory floor of Bottles of Australia. People are busy. They chat to each other while they work, grinning from ear to ear occasionally.
Bottles of Australia Director Anton Pemmer has always had difficulty in finding staff for the factory floor, and recognises the roles aren’t a career inspiring move. In saying that though, even the General Manager started in the production area, he says, and it has always been a starting point for people to build confidence, earn a living, and grow within the workforce.
“We used to hire a lot by word of mouth,’ he says, ‘which often worked, but as people moved on and up, we needed a more reliable way to recruit.’
“Enabled Employment has listed our roles, and we have some terrific staff who have really come into their own during their time here, and they are a great part of our team,’ he said.
Aisha and Shirley both applied to work for Anton and Bottles of Australia through the Enabled Employment website.
“I want to be famous!” says Aisha, striking a Zoolander pose for the camera, cracking up Anton, Shirley and myself.
Anton obviously enjoys the humour, and leaves me with General Manager Matt, to chat about the staff who signed up for the job through Enabled Employment, and their time at Bottles of Australia.
“Like a lot of other employees,’ says Matt “when they started they were a bit shy. Then that’s just like any other employee, now they’re part of the team, they chat at lunchtime, and interact just like anyone else. They aren’t any different to any other team member, there just isn’t an issue with their disability in the workplace,” he says.
Matt takes time to respond to my questions about those particular myths about disability in the workplace which employers sometimes hold.
“No, they don’t take more sick leave, or make more workers’ compensation claims, and they are often one of the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave from there area,” he says.
Anton confirms Matt’s response. As a business owner, it is ultimately his responsibility to ensure the team on the factory floor is a strong one.
“We treat everybody the same,’ he said ‘you get treated as a human being. We’re running a business, and Shirley and Aisha are a great asset to the team.
‘I loved having them at our Christmas party, we all had a great time, and these ladies are a real part of our business, and our achievements this year,’ he said.
Shirley and Aisha are members of the Deaf Community. Shirley is studying a Bachelor of Commerce, uses English as a second language, and is a cheerful and happy member of the team, and Aisha loves her football and is wearing her team jersey under her hi-vis vest. And, she wants to be famous, and we are sure she will be one day soon.