MONEY WHERE MOUTH IS
IS THERE MORE AUSTRALIA CAN DO TO OPEN ITS DOORS TO EMPLOYING PEOPLE LIVING WITH DISABILITY WHO ARE TOO OFTEN OVERLOOKED?
Everyone’s goal in life is to pursue the things that make them happy – whether that be from getting that promotion you’ve been working for, having a child, buying your first home, or we wouldn’t even judge you if it’s simply a pair of new shoes.
No matter what your aspirations, they’re all achieved through hard work and sacrifice.
But what if you weren’t given the opportunity to work in a job that had room for you to progress? Or didn’t have the flexibility to make decisions about your children, or your funding only covered the essentials and not a new pair of boots?
Well, you’d be wearing the shoes of many Australians living with a disability.
Karni Liddell isn’t a new face on the scene. She’s been an advocate for disability equality throughout this entire millennium.
However, years after her days competing as a Paralympian and rallying for equal rights, she describes the disability employment crisis similar to that of the feminist movement in the early 1960s – “starting from ground zero”.
Karni said one of the biggest issues facing those living with a disability (who account for about 18 per cent of Queensland’s population) was not being able to find sustainable work to earn a living.
“I don’t think people often put the word disability next to employment,” she said.
“They think that we are funded and that’s enough.
“No human is happy being funded. Every human needs connection, belonging and a purpose and also, we need money.
“We need money to get food, to travel, to buy cars and you know, to even buy new shoes.
“The NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) doesn’t fund any of that, like anyone, we need to work for those things.
“I totally believe in the NDIS, I ran the rallies for it back in the day on stage calling for it.
“But now that it is here, I’m just terrified that people will again believe that we’ve got our funding and we will be all good. Funding just means funding for supports and services to get out the front door.
“I want us to be employed, I want us to be seen as purposeful, talented and capable people.”
In the lead-up to Karni’s appearance at Venue 114’s In Conversation series where she will be addressing the topic of “Disability vs Ability”, she took a trip to the Sunshine Coast to see what was happening in the region for
people with disabilities looking for work.
Her journey pointed her in the direction of The Compass Farm located in Palmwoods the heart of the hinterland.
The farm operated by The Compass Institute was designed to be a place of learning, training and long-term fulfilment.
It welcomes individuals with disabilities of all kinds to take on traineeships to give them real-life skills and genuinely enjoyable vocational pathways.
Trainees at The Compass Institute can learn skills in anything from woodwork and art to agriculture, hospitality, construction, home maintenance and handy work.
On Karni’s visit to the facility, she said she was impressed to see the progressive programs on offer by the Coast-based social entity.
“I’ve seen places to learn how to make coffee, make food and homemade spreads, do woodwork, plant vegetables, look after farm animals, learn to communicate and work within an operating business,” Karni said.
“It’s like a real full circle moment and it just shows again how important the NDIS is to places like here because it enables people to choose to come along to Compass and learn how to make a living.”
The Compass Institute development co-ordinator Lisa Bathersby said since the Sunshine Coast rollout of the NDIS in January 2019, the offerings at the Compass Farm had been able to expand.
“We had trainees who used to come here two or three days a week, but now with the NDIS they can come four or five days a week,” she said.
“We used to close on Fridays but we’ve had to open and bring on new trainers to accommodate the influx of new trainees and develop additional programs to meet their individual goals and aspirations.”
As the NDIS Queensland ambassador and a member of the Queensland Government Domestic and Family Violence Implementation Council, Karni said research showed that women with a disability had a higher chance of getting physically or sexually abused, due to the fact they were less likely to find employment.
“We constantly talk to women about how they can escape toxic relationships,” Karni said.
“One of the things that keeps them in that environment is money. If they can’t provide food and shelter for their children, they will stay.
“So it’s very obvious to us, how women with a disability are way more vulnerable if they can not get work.
“Statistics say we (women with disabilities) are the most abused group in the country.” So, how can we break this toxic chain? It starts from breaking down stereotypes. Karni said a large number of Australian employers were wary of employing individuals with disabilities based on misconceptions and ‘thought-to-be’ financial constraints.
“Now we’ve proven with research that we do not take more sick days than anyone else and it doesn’t take more money to employ us,” Karni said.
“I’ve got a masters degree in social work and I couldn’t get a job in social work. Purely because I had a disability.”
“I’ve got so much knowledge around the systems, with my disability experience of trying to get through the maze of systems for funding but I kept getting told, ‘they were worried about me getting sick or tired’, or ‘how would I keep up’?”
“I thought to myself, ‘oh my gosh, I’m the fittest person in the room, I’m the healthiest person in the room and I’ve got an electric wheelchair, so you tell me why I can’t keep up’?”
The disability sector has grown to become a multi-billion dollar industry.
Support services, social enterprises, government funding programs and disability networks have revolutionised in recent years to offer flexible options for people with disabilities to access services in a way they never have been able to before.
Karni said this had given individuals who have a disability the power to make conscious decisions as consumers.
“We are a market, we want to be seen as customers,” she said.
“If you want to get us through your doors to buy your coffee, jump on your planes, stay at your hotels (or) buy our cars through you, then you probably want to look at employing someone with a disability because no one understands it better than us.”
Here on the Sunshine Coast, there are many different organisations similar to Compass also working to fill this void in the workforce.
The nationwide disability employment support service, STEPS, was founded on the Coast and still operates its main office out of Caloundra.
In the past month alone, the organisation has helped more than 1000 people with a disability find work.
STEPS managing director Carmel Crouch said they were continuing to open the eyes of employers who did not yet realise the benefits of employing someone with a disability.
“People with a disability bring a whole swag of skills and specific traits that can be a real positive to any workplace, including great problem solving skills, flexibility and loyalty,” Carmel said.
Karni Liddell will join The Compass Institute CEO David Dangerfield as guest speakers to discuss Disability vs Ability at the next In Conversation series.
The lunch will take place at Venue 114 on June 28. To book visit venue114.com.au.
HUMAN IS HAPPY BEING FUNDED. EVERY HUMAN NEEDS CONNECTION, BELONGING AND A PURPOSE, AND ALSO, WE NEED MONEY. - KARNI LIDDELL EMPLOYABLE: Karni Liddell, Courtney Pannell and Valerie the pony .