Op­por­tu­ni­ties are grow­ing for peo­ple with a dis­abil­ity, writes De­bra Bela

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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.


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.

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