As we are all aware the International Day of People with Disability is about promoting an understanding of people with disability and encouraging support for their dignity, rights and well-being. Today I want to focus on employment as a means of achieving this goal. Everybody should have the right to access and participate in employment. Employment is one of the key elements in assisting somebody to live a happy, healthy and productive life. Employment not only provides the capacity to achieve greater financial independence but it promotes dignity and social and mental wellbeing for people. It enables people to actively contribute within their community.
Furthermore, increased workforce participation of people with disability underpins the long term financial viability of the NDIS. In order to meet this goal it is vital that a strong and efficient employment support system exists that will assist people to participate to their full potential. But do we have the right support systems in place?
The Commonwealth Government currently invests approximately $6.8 Billion per annum in specialist disability employment services (this includes Disability Employment Services and Australian Disability Enterprises), yet the labour force participation rate for people with disability 15-65 years remains at an unacceptably low rate of 54% compared to those without a disability (83%) – (ABS, SDAC, 2014). Additionally Australia is ranked 21st out of 29 OECD countries for employment participation of people with disability.
The 2011 Deloitte Access Economics report ‘The Economic Benefits of Increasing Employment for People with Disability’ concluded that Australia would increase its Gross Domestic Project (GDP) by $43 billion if employment rates for people with disability were increased only by one third. The report estimated that a 10% increase in the labour market would equate to an increase of between 191,000 and 203,000 jobs for people with disability.
To increase employment participation we need to effectively engage people with disability, employers, service providers and government. Current specialist employment related services/interventions (from school to retirement) have inflexible rules and regulations that impede the seamless transition from one phase to the next. These include rules and regulations around:
- eligibility and access to different types and levels of support
- the manner and the delivery of the support required; and
- what constitutes employment.
So I have a few questions I hope you can provide some answers to, and these questions really drill down to how we can better assist people who want to work access employment opportunities.
If the current rules and regulations did not exist, what would the suite of employment supports look like?
How can people obtain the support they need to access appropriate types of employment when they need it?
How do we engage more effectively with employers?
I hope you will all engage in this conversation with me.
International Day of People with Disability is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the many skills and talents of people with disability, and to breakdown some of the unhelpful stereotypes that persist in our community. While it is true that people with disability are overrepresented in our unemployment figures, and are far more likely to be living near the poverty line than people without disability, there are also over one million people with disability successfully employed in the Australian workforce. More than 1/3 of employed people with disability work in professional, managerial and administrator roles. People with disability are employed in a wide range of occupations and industries, and bring a diverse range of skills and abilities to the workplace.
Also contrary to common misconceptions, many people with disability have completed tertiary education or attained other qualifications. In fact, with advances in assistive technology, more and more people with disability are completing tertiary education than ever before – from 1995 to 2012 the number of people with disability graduating from university increased by over 400%.
Another persisting myth is that it costs a lot to employ a person with disability. This is simply not true; on average, employing a person with disability doesn’t cost any more than employing someone without disability. If there is a cost involved in making workplace adjustments, then these can be covered by the Australian Government funded Employment Assistance Fund. When workplace adjustments are required, often they are simple technological fixes that can break down barriers and improve workplace communication for everyone, not just the person with disability.
Which brings us to the theme for this year’s IDPwD: Sustainable development - the promise of technology.
Technology is a great enabler of human potential, and, for many people with disability, can help to break down barriers. When people have access to the right ‘tools’, opportunities are opened up and meaningful inclusion becomes a closer reality.
Every day, life-changing advances are being made in the field of assistive technology. It’s incredible the ways that simple (and not-so-simple) technology can enhance inclusion for people with disability, particularly when it comes to securing and maintaining employment.
People with impairments that affect their vision, hearing, movement, dexterity, cognition or communication may experience significant barriers in accessing information or participating in some aspects of daily life, and can find themselves excluded from many employment opportunities. Assistive devices, software and other technologies can negate the impact of a person’s impairment, opening up a range of opportunities and levelling the playing field.
One of the most significant areas that accessible technology has progressed is in the Smart Phone / Tablet market, and the development of assistive apps.
Mobile devices are leading the way in terms of accessibility; not only are the phones and tablets themselves embedded with a range of accessibility features, but new apps designed to improve accessibility for people with disability are launched every other week.
Apps can assist people with disability to communicate, to navigate, to travel, to purchase and to learn new skills. Apps can increase independence and enhance inclusion within the workplace, and make it easier for people with disability to do their jobs, and to fully participate in all aspects of life. The beauty of apps for accessibility is that they are cheap to develop, can be easily updated and improved without having to purchase new equipment, and are transferable to a range of devices.
There are apps to help people with vision impairments to read signs, reports, menus and other information when they’re out and about, and way-finding apps that use GPS and location-tracking technology to assist navigation. Speech to text apps can be of great assistance to people with hearing impairments. Apps can also integrate with other assistive devices like hearing aids, electric wheelchairs, or braille devices, and can even be used to control automated functions (eg. lights, television, alarm systems, temperature control) within the home or office.
Seeing the progress that has already been made in such a short timeframe, it’s exciting to imagine the future: a world where technology breaks down even more barriers and assists people with disability to be fully included in all aspects of life.
Remember that feeling when teams are being picked and you are the last one. It might be a sporting team, it might be a spelling bee, or it might be the handing out of invitations for the six year old birthday party. Most if not all of us, at some point in our lives, have been left on the bench.
It's a horrible feeling, right there in the pit of your stomach. It usually shows on your face, and sometimes even trickles out of your eyes. You want to be part of the in-crowd, but you don't get invited.
That's what happens to Australians with disabilities in the employment market. Despite it being the accepted wisdom in Sydney's Daily Telegraph, none of us want to survive (I wouldn't call it live) on the Disability Support Pension - less than $20,000 a year. All of us want to have an answer to that first barbecue question "what do you do?.
But 45% of Australians with disabilities live in poverty. We are employed at a rate 30% less than the general population. And in reality the statistics probably paint a more positive picture, because many of us have withdrawn from the labour market. In the game of employment, far too many of us are benched from Team Australia.
This is despite the fact that we stay in employment longer and are more committed employees, we take less sick leave and make fewer workers compensation claims, we have a better safety record, and we are excellent problem solvers - we would have to be to get through our lives.
So it's time we - the members of Team Australia - did something about it. Yes, I mean each one of us reading this blog. It's time we shirt fronted our local politician. Which I understand in polispeak means having a very robust conversation. And here's what we should say.
I propose that politicians take the lead on employment of people with disabilities. I suggest a government-established scheme which allows an extra member of staff for each politician who employs a person with a disability. If you don't think it works, just ask Senator the Hon Jan McLucas the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Minister Duncan Gay in the NSW coalition government, or Jan Barham in the NSW Upper House representing the Greens - they've already done it, and they speak publicly about the benefits. Or just ask Kelly Vincent, a woman with disabilities representing the Dignity For Disability party in the SA upper house. I'm sure other politicians around the country have done it as well - I just don't know who they are.
Let's count the positives-
- Each politician gets an extra member of staff. That gets a tick inside Parliament.
- Just doing the numbers - pun intended - at the federal level, around 250 more people with disabilities get a job. That gets a tick in the disability sector, and in the community.
- The additional cost to the budget is under $20 million assuming $80,000 for the cost of employing each extra Electorate Officer. That's probably the equivalent of the pilot's seat in one of our new Joint Strike Fighters.
- People come into electorate offices and see Australians with disabilities gainfully employed - a positive image.
- We make a small saving from the welfare budget if people move off the Disability Support Pension. Let's say that's $5 million - we saved the seat cushion.
- The percentage of employees with disabilities in the public service increases from its current shameful level of 2.9% when the number of people with disabilities of working age is 15%.
So how do we make this dream a reality?
It's up to all of us. I challenge every one of you who reads this to shirt front your federal member of parliament, in the House of Representatives or the Senate. Personal visits work best. Letters or phone calls next best. But emails are good as well. You can find their contact details at www.aph.gov.au It doesn't matter which party they represent - we just want to create a ground-swell of support.
I made three phone calls today. How many have you contacted?
Graeme Innes AM is a human rights advocate, Australia's former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and a renowned shirt fronter - in polispeak of course.
To kick off of our week long blogging event to celebrate International Day of People with Disability we have turned on of my most popular blog posts 10 Facts About Disability Employment You Won't Believe into an infographic. Hope you find it eye opening. Make sure you share and lets try and get this information viral! Tune in tomorrow for our next blog post by Graeme Innes AM.
Last week, Enabled Employment competed in the 1776 World Cup Challenge, a global competition in 16 cities around the world to identify and celebrate the most promising startups tackling the biggest challenges in four categories: education, energy, health, and cities. We were up against some amazing competitors and it got me thinking about other businesses that are instigating change in the disability sector.
One of the main reasons that Enabled Employment chose to be a for profit business was to try and disrupt the disability sector and encourage other businesses to do the same and instigate social change. Along the way we are hearing of many innovative businesses in the sector doing some fantastic things with technology so thought I would share some information on these amazing ideas.
Technology is big business – it drives us and this is as true in the disability sector as it is anywhere else. Whether the latest advances in building modification, IT developments, mobile apps or anything else – here are some of the most important developments in the last few years that are or can improve the employability of people with disability.
Hear and Say
The 2014 Queensland Technology and Innovation Award went to the Hear and Say Centre, an organisation dedicated to paediatric care of children with severe hearing difficulties, and those who are completely deaf. The organisation has been operating for 21 years and presently has six centres; it helps families all over the country develop language and communication skills, both for the children, and for the families to communicate with their hearing-impaired children. In the last few years it has branched out into partnerships all over the globe, such is the success of its model. You can read more about Hear and Say at their website http://www.hearandsay.com.au/
Mobility is one of those issues restricting the mobility of some wheelchair users. Many wheelchair users do drive and enjoy the freedom of having a car. For others, simply getting in and out of a car is difficult. Introduced in early 2014, the Kenguru Electric Car addresses this problem. With a hatch at the back large enough for a wheelchair to roll in and roll out, it has the complete frame of a typical electric car and even looks like a car, but the mechanics of steering and mobility on the inside is more like a motorcycle. Its weight and design means it is classified as a light motorcycle for license purposes. Read about thie success at http://www.kenguru.com/
Smartphone Technology for the Blind
Most people are able to enjoy the convenience of a smartphone, all except those who are completely blind. That is why in 2013 several designers conceptualised and developed Braille Smartphones and the first models went on sale in early 2014. Previous phones for the blind relied on audio technology, vibrations and voice command – not one had been able to incorporate the technology allowing blind users to read messages. There are now many options to choose from; it is not clear whether the devices will take off in the long term considering Apple iPhones come with VoiceOver (a gesture based technology), ideal for blind users. The first braille phone to be released in Australia was the OwnFone https://www.ownfone.com.au/
People with disability struggle in a working environment and arguably those who struggle most in an office environment are people with very limited or no use of their hands. Lucy-4 tries to solve this problem using lasers. With a small laser mounted onto head ware – it fits easily onto a pair of glasses and on a headband – simply point the laser at the desired key on the light-sensitive keyboard (ideally placed next to a monitor) and the keyboard will do the rest. Its designer came up with the concept in 1980 and it has gone through several design upgrades since. More information on Lucy Keyboard is at http://lucykeyboard.com/
Enable Development is one of our partners and is headed up by Huy Nguyen who was the ACT Young Australian of the Year for 2013. Enable Development is working in collaboration with the Australian National University to develop low cost solutions to assistive technology such as mobility aids, computer accessibility software and sporting equipment. Through enabling technologies people can invest their money into more fulfilling activities such as traveling the world, gaining higher education. Instead of activities that most people take for granted. You can read all about the great work that Enable Development is doing in this space at http://enabledevelopment.com/enabletechnology/
Do you know of any other innovations in the disability sector? I would love to hear about them. Leave me a comment below and we can keep the conversation going.