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?

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | COVER STORY - WORDS: AN­NIE CAUGHEY

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.

PHOTO: CHLOE HORDER

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 .

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