SPECTRUM OF SOLUTIONS
These workers are now being seen in a new light, Melanie Burgess writes
AUSTRALIANS with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed than the general population, but the future is looking up as organisations and new technologies change the way people work and hire.
In 2015, the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 10 per cent, compared with 5.3 per cent for the workforce overall, ABS data shows. This figure was 31.6 per cent for people with autism, specifically.
Microsoft chief accessibility officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie says people with autism are often working in jobs that do not take advantage of their skills.
To address this, the tech company launched a hiring program in the US that it plans to roll out internationally, which is different to a traditional job interview.
“We set you tasks, and we assess your skills based on how you deliver on those tasks,” she says.
Lay-Flurrie recalls a developer writing code so fast the hiring manager had to ask him to slow down.
“Ultimately, the hiring managers are like ‘we need this code, we need to see what the hell this kid’s done’,” she says. “It turned out he was just an utter genius, but that was never showing through in our interviews.”
Meanwhile, research from Vision Australia shows just 24 per cent of blind and partially-sighted adults are in full-time work and 43 per cent say workplace inaccessibility is a barrier.
To reduce barriers, Microsoft is developing technologies such as its Seeing AI app, which turns text, currency, handwriting and surroundings into spoken descriptions, and its Soundscape software, which uses audio cues to provide navigation.
Workskil Australia chief executive Nicole Dwyer says unemployment rates for people with disabilities is unacceptable but is being addressed.
“Progressive employers understand the wide-ranging benefits a diverse workplace brings,” she says.
“(It) brings new skills and experience to an organisation.
“People with disability are some of the most dedicated, skilled and hardworking employees in the workforce.”
BIG FUTURE: Lachlan Grindrod received help from disability services provider Mylestones Employment to land a job at Kmart.