Opportunities are growing for people with a disability, writes Debra Bela
EMPLOYMENT opportunities for people with a disability are improving, with more than 61,000 people placed in jobs last financial year.
Disability advocates say workplaces and support agencies must do more, however, to include people with an intellectual disability.
The 22 per cent jump in employment for disabled workers in 2011-12, reported by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, is largely because of a raft of government incentives and the work of disability service providers to support long-term employment.
But Down Syndrome Association of Queensland executive officer Louise Lloyd says intellectual impairment can still strike fear among employers.
In Australia, 23 per cent of people with a profound or severe core activity limitation are unemployed and looking for work.
The unemployment rate for people with a mild or moderate rate of core activity limitation is just above 8 per cent.
‘‘ What will change that, is the ongoing education and training of disability employment agencies so they can provide excellent support and management,’’ Lloyd says.
She says many employers who hire disabled staff find a lack of ongoing support in the workplace leads to an eventual breakdown in employment.
Lloyd says part of living in Australia’s modern inclusive society is the belief that anyone given an opportunity can make a go of it. The physical and emotional benefits of working are profound within the disabled community.
‘‘ There is a lot of visual evidence, anecdotal evidence of the change in demeanor and general well-being of a dis-
‘It doesn’t matter what people can’t do. What matters is what they can do and finding a good match.’
abled person who is working,’’ Lloyd says. ‘‘ For people with Down Syndrome, the worst thing to be told is that you can’t do something.’’
Global resources giant BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) is developing its own disability engagement program in consultation with staff and the community.
In co-operation with the spectrum training Organisation, BMA Blackwater Mine general manager Paul Hemburrow designed an office administration course to help disabled people complete the Certificate III in Office Administration, after discovering staff with disabled children were concerned about limited job opportunities.
The program now operates on three tiers: training people with disabilities for permanent employment on site in various disciplines; preparing them for work within the Blackwater community; and training for short-term, project-based roles at the mine.
‘‘ It doesn’t matter what people can’t do,’’ Hemburrow says. ‘‘ What matters is what they can do and finding a good match. I really value diversity in general.
‘‘ If you have diversity, you bring in people with different skills and experiences and it adds another dimension.
‘‘ This program has changed the cultural dynamic of our workplace. And we have documented the process so others can follow it.’’
Disability service provider Ability Options says government funding to help employers engage a disabled workforce has provided significant growth in the jobs market.
Chief executive Matt Donnelly is working with 3500 disabled jobseekers and says they are an untapped talent pool whose contribution will be needed as an ageing population increases labour force demand. ‘‘ They stay with the employer longer and have a much higher level of loyalty to the employer,’’ Donnelly says.
Disability Works Australia says workplaces that employ staff with disabilities have better attendance and safety records, higher staff retention rates and improved workplace morale.
A 2009 survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found almost one-fifth of working-age people with a disability were employed as professionals, followed by clerical and administrative workers and technicians and trade workers.
About one-third of people with intellectual disabilities were working as labourers, such as cleaners, while 20 per cent of employed people with sensory or speech disabilities were in professional occupations such as secondary school teaching.
The survey found people with a disability were also more likely to be self-employed than the general workforce.
FEELING OF ACCEPTANCE
Marika Shackal has been with disability service Barkuma for about 22 years and has worked at the Adelaide Convention Centre since 2006.
Shackal, whoworks in the uniform store, says she has gained confidence outside of work because of her job. ‘‘I enjoy coming to work every day and talking to people makes me feel accepted. It feels good,’’ she says.
Barkuma has given the Convention Centre honorary membership because of its commitment to employ people with a disability.