Why Tasmanian employers are embracing disability employment

Image: Back row left to right – Katrina Webb, Daniel Valiente-Riedl, Kristy Bourne, Laura Blackwell, Wayne Johnson. Front row left to right – Bec Spry, Felicity Denham, Alysse Gavlik.

Image: Back row left to right – Katrina Webb, Daniel Valiente-Riedl, Kristy Bourne, Laura Blackwell, Wayne Johnson. Front row left to right – Bec Spry, Felicity Denham, Alysse Gavlik. 

Every organisation wants to get the right person for a job – what if they just happen to be a person with disability? At a recent event for Tasmanian employers, the advice was simple: embrace the potential of disability employment and reap the rewards.

Driving Disability Employment: the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace was the 25th seminar for employers hosted by JobAccess, and the second to be held in Hobart. Co-hosted by the Department of Justice, over 70 attendees joined emcee and keynote speaker Paralympian Katrina Webb for an engaging morning of expert presentations, panel sessions and networking.

Strong evidence supporting disability inclusion for Tasmanian employers

Daniel Valiente-Riedl, General Manager at JobAccess, shared a wide range of research supporting disability employment, workplace diversity and inclusion. “It represents a significant opportunity for Tasmanian organisations in terms of potential employees and customers. Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in both 2015 and 2018, over one-quarter of people in Tasmania had disability, higher than all other states and territories, and this number continues to increase.”

Work in partnership to drive inclusion across an organisation

According to Kristy Bourne, Deputy Secretary – Corrections and Justice, disability inclusion has become a core value for the Department of Justice, and one of the reasons they supported the seminar. “As part of our deep commitment to disability employment, we are working to build inclusion into everything we do, so diversity becomes part of who we are. We have increased the capability of our workforce to build safe and inclusive environments by providing awareness, education and training.”

“The Department also entered a partnership agreement with the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator – the employer engagement service of JobAccess ) to drive disability employment in our Agency. JobAccess undertook a recruitment review, taking a really practical approach and a fresh set of eyes to reviewing our current processes – with the lens of a potential candidate with disability.”

Embrace the many benefits people with disability bring to a workplace

In one of the seminar highlights, an employee panel then shared their experiences of living and working with disability, with a key theme of encouraging employers to be open and flexible, and to focus on the person, not their disability.

“Make sure you employ the person, not the disability. Most have worked hard to get to where they are, look at their attributes and what they can bring to a role. For me, my disability has built my resilience, and I believe I’m thicker skinned than most and probably more so than before my accident,” said Alysse Gavlik, Senior Consultant, Community Development and Engagement, Department of State Growth.

“In interviews, I address it straightaway – saying I have disability and this is how I handle it, turning it into a positive, and hopefully, showing that I’m not going to be a difficult person to employ. I’m very comfortable sharing I have Cerebral Palsy. I’ll explain the condition, why I move differently, and that I require adjustments – name it, move on and see that I’m a person first,” added Felicity Denham, Employment Project Officer, State Service Management Office.

“Take a broad view when employing someone – don’t just look for top grades but at what assets they can bring to a team. There are also huge benefits to hiring someone with disability – a company that reflects your population will improve service delivery to the community. People with disability will bring diverse ways of thinking to your organisation and team and unique ways of problem solving,” said Bec Spry, Project Officer, Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management.

Learn from other employers committed to inclusion

For a 360 degree perspective on disability employment, the seminar also heard from an employer panel which encouraged organisations to keep working towards inclusion in their workplaces.

“The biggest change we can make is in the attitude towards people with disability. Many of you will have team members with disabilities and you will not be aware of them. During performance appraisals, I always end by asking what else can we be doing to support you? 99 percent of the time what they ask is doable and achievable.

It’s important that we provide support in the workplace but that doesn’t mean that we will have all the answers. We’re not going to get it right all the time. That’s why it’s important to work with groups such as JobAccess to help ensure that everyone is supported and has the opportunity to participate in work,” shared Wayne Johnson, Director, Monetary Penalty Enforcement Service.

“To make sure we get the right candidate, we have to focus on their ability to do the job, rather than focus on disability. A colleague recently joined us through a disability employment services provider for work experience. Community Corrections did not need to make any significant changes to the workplace, however, we organised for him to work part-time, take regular breaks from the computer and provided an ergonomic assessment and relevant equipment.

The staff member’s contributions to the workplace and office were incredibly valuable and as a result, we were able to offer a longer term contract,” said Laura Blackwell, Acting Operations Manager for Community Corrections, Department of Justice. 

Gaining exposure to build confidence

In closing the seminar, Daniel from JobAccess had one final piece of advice for employers. “In our experience supporting employers, we find one of the most common challenges is simply fear – fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake or saying or doing the wrong thing. However, as with many things in life, gaining exposure to disability is the best way to build confidence and capability.”

It may just also help you find the right person for the job.

Larger employers can enter into a free 12-month partnership with the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) – the employer engagement service of JobAccess, and work with a dedicated Professional Adviser to receive personalised, one-on-one support to develop workplace policies and practices that accommodate people with disability. Call a JobAccess Adviser on 1800 464 800 to be connected with the NDRC.

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