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.
For over 4 million people with a disability facing adversity is part of everyday life. Especially when it comes to the job marketplace. Unfortunately there are still significant barriers to earning a stable income for many people with a disability.
Unemployment rates for this community are unacceptably high. This year unemployment for people with disabilities was twice as high as the general population and labour force participation was half that of the non-disabled workforce.
At Enabled Employment we believe everyone has the right to financial independence, and flexible economic opportunities should be made available to all.
That’s why today we’re announcing a partnership with Uber - to extend flexible income opportunities to thousands of of people with disabiloities able to drive on the uberX platform.
“We think the time is right for people with a disability to take matters into their own hands and manage their own income opportunities. Uber’s ridesharing platform presents a possibility to change the status quo, which has so far failed to create gainful economic opportunities for people with a disability.” - Jessica May, Founder, Enabled Employment.
We hope this partnership not only helps Enabled Employment members find well-paid income opportunities, but also encourages the 53% of people with disabilities with a driving licence to consider driving on the uberX platform.
This includes partners like Jordan who lives with Achondroplasia and chose to drive on the uberX platform to escape unemployment.
"I was unemployed for a year before I found Uber. I decided to join uber because I wanted to do something during the day while I was looking for a job. It was really hard for me to find another job because of my size, but with uber nothing like that matters.
“Joining Uber was the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only do I get to meet new people and hear funny stories, I can also start when I want and finish when I want.”
“I would recommend Uber to anyone looking for some extra money or finding it hard to find a job.” Jordan, Perth
And partners like Paul who chose to drive with Uber to supplement his income while studying computer science.
"I was born with Spina Bifida and I really should not be here (alive) to write this, let alone having the ability to walk and function reasonably well, something that the majority of people with my condition will never experience.
I have my older brother and sister to thank for my ability to walk and the most amazing mother in the universe to thank for my life thus far.
I am a chef by trade, but due to my condition I had to retire. Uber has now given me the opportunity to supplement my average wage to the point that I may continue my studies and also afford a few personal splurges here and there.
Finding a second job that allowed me to keep off my feet, not to mention being free to relax and enjoy meeting so many cool people and only do the hours I am comfortable with was impossible until I found Uber.” – Paul, Brisbane.
For the past year, since launching on 11 September 2015, Enabled Employment has been winning awards for being a ‘start-up’. Start-up is a term used in the entrepreneur and tech world for a new company which is primarily internet based, and which has a business model which involves seeking private venture capital investment after proving their market worth. The term ‘start-up’ can be used while the company is being established. Some start-ups are only months old, while others are two or three years old.
Enabled Employment CEO Jessica May chose to follow the entrepreneurial path when she formed the business model she wanted for the company, rather than choose a not-for-profit business model.
Private venture capital investment is a whole new world for most of us. I learned about it when Jess was accepted into the GRIFFIN Accelerator. Private venture capital investment is when you are asking investors to exchange their hard earned cash for shares in the company.
An ‘accelerator’ or ‘business incubator’ such as GRIFFIN Accelerator is a group of experienced business people and entrepreneurs who exchange their cash for shares in your company to get your cash flow started, and mentor you through your first three months of business and ‘pitching’ for investment. Enabled Employment was accepted into the GRIFFIN program last year in July, and the knowledge gained from the team of mentors about doing business in the corporate world, and investment, was invaluable.
But why would someone choose a business model based on private venture capital when they could run a not-for-profit and get government subsidies, and tax concessions?
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show there are approximately 2.2 million Australians of working age with a disability. The current social security system demands that if you receive a government payment such as Newstart, you are required to meet the job seeking criteria. If you disclose you have a disability, you will be referred to an employment service which specialises in placing people with disability into jobs, in return for government funding.
Jess made a decision on ethical grounds about how people with a disability are offered jobs. Currently, job seeking assistance to people with a disability is paid for by the government, and, depending on the level of disability, per person the government pays $890 for 13 weeks assistance from an employment services provider. Then there is a job placement fee of $770 per job placement, bringing the cost of services per individual to $1660.
Employers are subsidised by the government to provide ‘placements’ for people with a disability. Employers receive a 13 week placement fee of $2860, and a bonus of $572, and at the 26 week placement point, a further $7,700 plus a bonus of $1540. That’s $12,672 for six months provision of a placement.
All this adds up to $14,332 per person, per placement. And that’s at a minimum; the figures are higher for those with higher assistance needs.
Enabled Employment does not receive any of this government funding under the current disability employment framework. CEO Jess May considered the practice of government payments to employers for providing ‘placements’ to people with disability, and decided that another option was definitely both needed, and possible.
As people with skills, work experience, abilities and qualifications, she does not believe employers should be subsidised to employ people with a disability. The company she runs believes wholeheartedly that paying an employer to provide a job to a person with a disability encourages a misplaced belief that it is a ‘charitable favour’ to give work to a person with a disability – rather than an opportunity to diversify the workforce, and gain the demonstrable skills and capabilities of a qualified and skilled employee.
Why should I, for example, a person with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, be considered any less worthy of a role than someone with out those conditions? I’ve only taken one day off sick in the last 2 years, I work full-time hours, I have two degrees – and over 20 years experience as a professional communicator. Why should an employer get a windfall of some $12,000 to employ me for a short six months?
By not taking government subsidies, Enabled Employment is trying to change attitudes, in every sphere of Australia’s corporate world, towards how we regard the work capabilities and value of people with a disability. We do not believe that subsidies are the answer, for either employers or people with a disability.
So Jessica, and our Chief Information Officer and web wizard Chris Delforce, have ‘mainstreamed’ the recruitment process for our employee cohort, providing a jobs website where people with a disability can access job opportunities with inclusive employers – using flexible working options and a results oriented work environment.
Our approach ensures there is some level of self determination and choice in how people with a disability find work.
There’s a saying in ‘start-up’ world, and that is ‘Be the change you want to see.’
We are the change we want to see, and we hope our journey continues as successfully as it has for the last ten months.
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.
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.