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
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?
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.
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.