Seminar shines spotlight on disability employment potential for regional employers

20 December 2022

Picture of speakers, JobAccess and GOTAFE staff on a stage with an assistance dog

  • Picture of speakers, JobAccess and GOTAFE staff on a stage with an assistance dog

JobAccess celebrated its 30th Driving Disability Employment event with a seminar for regional Victorian employers in Shepparton on 15 November 2022.

The seminar, ‘Unlocking the disability employment potential for regional employers’ was co-hosted with JobAccess Alumni partner GOTAFE, regional Victoria’s largest vocational education provider.

The speakers and panellists presented a range of invaluable information about support from JobAccess and GOTAFE’s commitment to inclusion, underpinned by several who shared their stories of triumph over adversity.

GOTAFE committed to disability inclusion

GOTAFE is already seeing the benefits of its partnership with JobAccess, said Angela McLeod, GOTAFE’s Executive Director, Attraction and Engagement.

“We have agreed to a 12-month partnership, which is already making a difference to how we approach supporting staff living with disability,” she said.

On the back of the partnership with JobAccess’ employer engagement service, the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) GOTAFE is now committed to increasing the representation of staff members with disability to 12 per cent by 2025.

When being different can lead to the road to success.

Keynote speaker Katrina Webb – who won gold, silver, and bronze medals in athletics at three Paralympic Games – spoke about the challenge of acknowledging that she has disability and not wanting to be “different”.

“It took me a while before I really learnt to be ‘me’,” said Katrina, who has mild cerebral palsy and is also a global ambassador for the International Paralympic Committee.

After a stalled career as a mainstream elite netballer, her athletic ability and disability were identified around the same time in her late teens. This paved the way to a decorated international sporting career, which includes carrying the torch for Australia at the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

Employee perspectives: how inclusive workplace practices can unlock potential

Kim HunterEquitable Learning Support at GOTAFE

Kim says her employment prospects were severely impacted after she began using a wheelchair 20 years ago,

“When you go for a job, they don’t look at you, your skills or qualifications, they just look at the wheelchair.

“I feel like I am the same person as I was 20 years ago, but people have treated me differently.

Asked her advice for prospective employers Kim responded: “Give a person with disability a go. They may surprise you and be the best employee you may ever have.

“I’m comfortable. I am who I am. I love people. I love helping them. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through as a young person.

“I tell them to ‘just be yourself’. Being me is how I go this job.”

Marion LangfordSenior Careers Advisor at GOTAFE

Marion wrestles with anxiety, which can be invisible to others despite its challenges.

“I don’t see that I have a disability. I deal with anxiety. What if we change the word disability to anxiety? I was my hardest task master growing up. I believed smart people don’t have anxiety. So, I pushed that away.

“I never identified with having a disability but just this experience of high anxiety … After I earned my ‘MBA in major life changes’ I had to own up and say I need help, this anxiety is not good.

Marion said it’s important for her that anxiety doesn’t define or label her.

“Don’t define me and others by one aspect of who we are. Because it’s not visible … there are so many people who hide it and don’t feel comfortable revealing it.

“Secrets have such power over you, when you release and say ‘hey this is part of how I am. It’s not necessarily who I am but it’s part of who I am ...’

“I would encourage employers to work together (with the employee dealing with anxiety. You will have a v loyal and valuable employee by doing so.”

Claudia StevensonProfessional Adviser at JobAccess

“The biggest barrier for me has been around not having a driver’s licence (due to my vision impairment).

“But is having a licence what’s required or being able to move round safely into the community really the requitement?

Despite her many qualifications, Claudia has often been told she will not be capable or able to manage in specific jobs.

“You don’t know anything about me and what I have done to get here.  Just because no one with vision impairment has done the job don’t make assumptions about me.

“It doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

“It can be exhausting having a disability. Sometimes you just want to sit quietly on the train and fall asleep like everyone else without having to engage in a conversation (about her support dog Poppy or her vision impairment.)

Claudia recommends prospective employers broaden their pool by considering people with disability.

“Don’t be afraid to try. It does not matter if you’re not perfect (with a disability confident workplace). Start with a conversation.”

Help at hand for regional employers

It is important for regional employers to have access to assistance, said JobAccess’ General Manager Daniel Valiente Riedl.

This is particularly pertinent in the Greater Shepparton area as figures show nearly 25 per cent of the population – or one in four people – lives with disability. This is higher than the national figure of one in six.

“This reinforces the importance of the conversation we are having here today to improve disability employment. And, of course, the significant opportunity that awaits Shepparton employers.

“Regardless of your role or size of organisation, today is about getting the facts, getting the support and making it happen,” Daniel told the audience of regional employers.

“Research consistently highlights the clear benefits of building and supporting a socially diverse and inclusive workforce. This includes the participation of people with disability.

Social inclusion has a quantifiable impact on workplace productivity to the tune of $5 billion annually.”

Employer insights: putting disability inclusion into practice

The employer panel discussed challenges they faced to attract and employ candidates with disability, and strategies to support their disability confidence.

Claire NihillCoordinator, Learning Support at GOTAFE

Claire said it is important to imbed inclusive practices from the beginning.

“Ask and offer choice and options. It expands everyone’s world.

“It’s best to look at options around how people with disabilities work best. Rather than ‘medicalising’ it by saying ‘what’s wrong with you?’, let’s say, ‘how do you work best?’”

“Then bring out their strengths.”

Daniel GardnerCo-ordinator, Diversity and Inclusion at GOTAFE

Daniel has been a force in driving GOTAFE’s disability inclusion.

“It’s a personal journey for me. I too come with my own lived experiences. What saved me was a network with people with lived experience in the workplace.

“I have found my passion and something that gets me up in the morning.”

Daniel said it was important to remember there are people with disability who perhaps do not identify or feel comfortable disc losing details already working in the organisation.

“JobAccess’ disability awareness training has been fantastic for looking at unconscious bias in recruiting and across the workplace.

“One of the challenges is to stop thinking about the individual and concentrate on the environments and how can we make them accessible rather than ‘fix’ the individual.’

As a result of the NDRC partnership Daniel said GOTAFE reviewed its flexible working and recruitment offering to suit how employees work best.

“My advice to other employers who are starting out is to start somewhere. Try things if they don’t work try something else. When we are creating opportunities there will be some giant leaps and there will be some small steps.”

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