Giving people the chance to ask about living with disability

Paul Harpur, Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland

Paul Harpur, Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland | Fulbright Future Scholar | International Distinguished Fellow, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University New York Disability Rights | Labour Law.

A day in the office for Paul Harpur usually starts around five am. During the peace and quiet of the early mornings, he’s corresponding with his American colleagues who are wrapping up their own day. With his emails out of the way, Paul then jumps on the bus to work where he is a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland’s TC Beirne School of Law.

Paul is home by three, and then spends a few hours of precious quality time with his family. Once they’re asleep, he’s back at the computer until 11pm, addressing any other tasks that he might have set aside during the day.

All up, Paul completes an 18-hour work day five days a week, along with some ad-hoc projects on the weekend. He is a self-professed workaholic. Paul is also blind.

At the age of 14, Paul was hit by a train. When he woke up hours later in hospital, he discovered that the trauma had caused him to lose his vision, which he would never regain.

“I knew then that I had a choice - to give up, or to push through and continue working towards my goals,” explains Paul.

And push through he did - Paul went on to become a hugely accomplished legal scholar and academic. But not without challenge.

When first trying to enter academia, Paul found that due to his blindness people were unsure of how he would complete tutoring work from a logistical perspective, and so distributed the work elsewhere. Paul realised that he needed to be proactive in addressing this with those around him to make sure that they knew he was capable.

“I would say one of the most important things I’ve learnt over the years is to give people the chance to ask questions. So for example, in a job interview I ask to have five additional minutes to discuss my disability.

“I find that if I don’t offer them the time to talk about my vision, they’ll either use up precious minutes from my interview discussing it, or they won’t ask at all and because they don’t know the answers they won’t give me the job,” Paul said.

There are also a range of benefits for companies that hire people with disability. Paul says that a workforce inclusive of people living with disability encourages diversity, and is better placed to respond to change and generate fresh insight.

In terms of Paul’s day-to-day around the university, University of Queensland (UQ) operates on a Reasonable Adjustment Policy, committed to creating an accessible and inclusive work environment so that people living with disability can participate fully in all aspects of employment.

Paul has been supplied with a new government-funded laptop, and UQ works to ensure that all of his lecture halls are as close together as possible to make transitioning between lessons quick and simple.

If ever there is a miscommunication between Paul and the faculty regarding his needs, he works to get the necessary measures institutionalised so that others in his position won’t have to go through the same.

Paul is chair of the UQ Disability Inclusion Group, formed under the Disability Action Plan and answering through the Pro-Vice Chancellor to the University Senate.

“Overseeing the disability strategy at UQ allows me to create significant change for 2000 students a year who live with disability. It’s very rewarding to see the tangible changes taking place in the form of digital access, wheelchair ramps and accessible lifts.

“UQ claims to be ‘disability courageous’, and it is amazing to be part of the journey that is realising this vision,” Paul said.

Workplace adjustments can be made through JobAccess and the Employment Assistance Fund, which provide financial assistance to people with disability and their employers to make work-related modifications.

Find out more about how the Employment Assistance Fund can be used for workplace adjustments and equipment.

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