Before you read on, think of a time when you went to hand in your resume to a business, a time when you went for a job interview, maybe even a time when you were unemployed for a considerable amount of time. How did you feel?
The process of becoming employed can be daunting and challenging. It can also be a long, extensive process. Nowadays, some businesses require you to answer multiple questions, fill out forms and attend a handful of interviews before you get the ‘tick of approval’ and are hired.
But spare a thought for those people with disabilities. For them, finding a job and becoming employed is far more challenging. It was the ABC’s three-part series, Employable Me, that not only exposed the challenges they face when it comes to finding a job, but also highlighted their hidden talents and beautiful personalities. Each episode documents three unique individuals as they start their journey towards finding a job.
Employment and Disabilities
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) outlined in 2015, only 53% of Australians with a disability were employed, in comparison to 83% of the working-age population. As a result, Australia was ranked 21 out of 29 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Nations when it came to employment rates for people with a disability. A ‘disability’ is an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions, referring to the negative aspects of interactions between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual’s contextual factors (environmental and personal factors).
A reoccuring comment in the 2014 National Disability Survey, conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, was that many people with disabilities want to work and were capable of working.
Let me introduce you to Rohan. He is 21 years old. He is gregarious and enthusiastic, open and honest… and he happens to have Autism. He is also currently unemployed.
When asked why he wanted to be employed, Rohan replied with, “I want a job because I want to live independently… I want to contribute to society you know… I want to be normal I guess”.
It has been since the late 20th century, people with disabilities have been demanding that a disability be seen as a matter of equal opportunities and human rights. However, discrimination towards people with disabilities is still occuring, causing high unemployment rates… and people like Rohan to feel like they are ‘not normal’. Studies on the issue have found that employers frequently avoid employing people with disabilities because they unfairly perceive them as less talented, requiring greater supervision, struggling to arrive and leave work and increasing workplace health insurance premiums and liabilities.
But these people are a part of our society and it is time we wholeheartedly embraced them. They are people who happen to have a disability, and their disability should not define who they are.
It is the latest hit song, This is Me, from the 2017 movie, The Greatest Showman, that resonates with those facing discrimination in the workforce. Originally intended to give a voice to the struggles of the circus’ “Oddities”, This is Me is now recognised as a fight song for those people who feel like they are not accepted by society. The song explains that no matter what you look like, no matter what people say to you, this is who you are and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
Some of the song lyrics are,
… I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
… I make no apologies, this is me.
Research has actually found that hiring people with disabilities has many benefits such as improvements in profitability (e.g., profits and cost-effectiveness, turnover and retention, reliability and punctuality, employee loyalty, company image), competitive advantage (e.g., diverse customers, customer loyalty and satisfaction, innovation, productivity, work ethic, safety), inclusive work culture, and ability awareness. Not only does the employment opportunity benefit the business, it improves the quality of life and income of the person with the disability, it enhances their self-confidence, expands their social network, and allows them to feel sense of belonging.
Just as disabilities are varied and present in a number of ways, so too are the person’s talents and skills. It is time society accepts and embraces people with disabilities and begin focusing on their particular skills so they can find rewarding employment.
New employment opportunities
In recent years, some organisations have taken the initiative to assist in increasing employment opportunities for those with disabilities. The Wesley Mission Queensland is one organisation creating programs and jobs for people with disabilities.
Recently developed, The ORCA (Opportunities, Readiness, Community and Abilities) Project is a post school option for young people with disabilities. The program includes training, work experience and ultimately employment.
Current Wesley Mission Queensland employee, Stephanie Brown (also current KCB307 student) explained, the ORCA Project have also recently started up a business called the Ethical Grocery Group which aims at giving young people with disabilities experience in the workplace, followed by a paid employment position. Their job entails packing and delivering groceries such as fruit and vegetables which are ethically sourced through FoodConnect and Sovereign foods.
Similarly, late last year, the ANZ Bank became one of the major companies in Australia to deliberately recruit people with Autism. After interviewing and analysing the applicants and their skills, nine new employees were due to begin work early this year: four in cyber-security roles and five as test analysts.
In order to be an inclusive society, we must accept each other for who we are. So, next time you’re speaking to, looking at or interviewing a person with a disability, just remember they are a person just like you… who happens to be different.