Let's Talk About Employment
With the unemployment rate of people living with disability at 10% (almost double that of people who don’t live with disability), Purple Orange spends a lot of time focused on employment. In January 2019 we asked the disability community for your stories of job seeking and careers.
The Road to Employment project works with employers and schools to change work expectations about people with disability. You can find out more about the project here.
Every person deserves the right to meaningful employment and having a job brings great benefits to a person’s life. Jane recently lost her job and is looking for a new one. She told us about the ways her job allowed her to live the life she wants.
"In 2015, there were 2.1 million Australians of working age with disability. Of these, 1.0 million were employed and another 114,900 were looking for work. This means that 53.4% of working age people with disability were in the labour force." (Australian Bureau of Statistics)
Compare that to the 83% of working aged people who don’t live with disability and you can see that employment is an important issue in the disability community. Cheralyn told us about her employment journey, including the issues she had with people not seeing her abilities.
When an employer focuses on ability, they will find some great employees in the disability community. They will find that people living with disability are just as productive as other employees, they have better attendance rates and less occupational health and safety incidents and they stay loyal to their workplace for longer.
Trudy has been working for SA Ambulance for 33 years. That's longer than all her colleagues. With a few minor adjustments, Trudy can get on with her day and be a valued member of the team. All it has taken is a desk extension with arm support, a digital keyboard which she can access with a mouse, assistance in putting on and taking off her headset and a couple of cups of tea each day.
[MUSIC PLAYING] So when I first left school I went to a few job interviews, one of which was then St. John Ambulance. I didn't get the job, but then I went and did a TAFE course. Several months later, the HR person saw me whizzing through the TAFE building and was trying to chase me, but I only have one speed, which is full-speed ahead. They faxed to the TAFE center asking me if I wanted to come in for an interview. I've been working there for 33 years in August.
I'm a customer service representative at SA Ambulance. My disability doesn't hinder me in my job. The only adaptions that I've had to have are my button to open the doors, my desk height, and I have an arm support that I use at work, my keyboard. The only help I need from my manager is to turn my computer on in the morning, and they take my headset on and off, and they also make me a couple of cups of tea.
I think it's been totally cost effective for them because it helps them out. I'm a good worker. I'm consistently there. I love my job with a passion. I've made some very good friends at work over the years. The favorite part of my job is actually talking to the people and interacting with them, being able to fix their problem.
Welcome to SA Ambulance Service. This is Trudy. How can I help you?
Because I have carers coming in and out of my house and life every day and I'm talking to them and instructing them, I'm good at problem solving. I have been there the longest. I feel like the grandmother of the call center, but that's a really good feeling as well.
Nick started off as a client at Determined2, and after getting to know the staff and the staff seeing where his strengths were, they offered him the role of Client Relations Officer. He told us he is good at his job because of his ability to connect with people and his passion for improving the lives of other people living with disability.
[MUSIC PLAYING] My name is Nick Schumi. I work for Determined2 Immersion Therapy as a client relations officer.
Immersion Therapy is a world first, water-based therapy program for people with disabilities. I've always been very passionate about being in water, and swimming, and things like that because the water is a very freeing environment. The only place that I can do a head or handstand, or back flip, front flip, anything you want.
So when I found out about this new program that was around, I was like, I want to just give it a shot. So I became a client. And then just got to know people around there. They got to know what my skill set was. Sometimes when you're involved with different things, you just never know where they're going to lead.
I never thought that I'd ever have a job that I could go to work with no shoes on every day, by the pool side. I've worked in lots of other jobs where I've had office jobs and wearing, like, business wear. I don't really want to go back but now that I'm doing this.
In terms of skill sets that are important for a role like this is obviously being a people person. The client experience, that is the most important part of my job. So it's my job to find out when they want to come in, when they want to be here, how things are going in their life, how it's making a difference for them. And as a person with disability myself, I can have really open and honest conversations, which strengthens what we do and how we do it.
If I have somebody that's never come to it before, what I find is that once they go on that journey of challenging themselves to go under the water for an extended amount of time, their demeanor completely changes. They just come out of the water beaming with energy. And to be around that on a daily basis is just an absolutely amazing thing.
Most of the jobs that I have had and have gone for have been somewhat disability-related. It's definitely not about me feeling that those are the only jobs that I can go for. I'm actually really passionate about helping the disability community. You can give yourself much more, you can achieve so much more, if you're invested in it. Passion is everything.
So how do you find a job that’s right for you? Natalie said that helping people when they are most vulnerable is something she has always been passionate about. She shared a memory with us from when she was 8 years old.
My name is Natalie, and I'm a lawyer. My favorite part of being a lawyer is the part that made me want to do it as a child. I really like to help people at their worst time. When I was in year three, I had a friend who was in detention. I took it upon myself, so eight-year-old me, to write a letter to the reception to the year three coordinator, saying why he should not be in detention. So yes, it was always sort of in me.
If I think about what my job has given me, it has giving me routine, interaction with others, it's giving me confidence, and it's given me money. So you know, without confidence, maybe I wouldn't have gone and met, like, an amazing guy. Without money, I would not have built a house. With a job, you really do get to say, OK, so I have all these skills, and I do all these things, and I get money, which is great, because that helps me move ahead in life, and now I can focus on other things.
My education, in terms of both secondary and tertiary education, were my golden ticket. Absolutely. I knew that if I wanted to do what I had always dreamed of being, that I would have to blaze the trail. I was the only one in not only my cohort, but in the five years of law school that was in a wheelchair at all. You know, no one said to me, Natalie, you can't be a lawyer. In fact, everyone was quite supportive in words of encouragement throughout my studies.
But the environment said otherwise. You know, we have a Supreme Court building that has a flight of steps up to it. You know, we have bar tables in courtrooms that I can't physically get into. It has provided me with a lot of opportunity to be an advocate for reform. I have been fortunate enough to be recognized in that advocacy through the award of, you know, Australian Young Lawyer of the Year, and SA Young Lawyer of the Year.
Being in the workforce, and just living your life, you will lead by example. People need to be exposed to it. You know, they need to have their unconscious views challenged. And if you just get on and live your life, you will challenge them. And it usually, in my experience, turns out to be something pretty great. For sure.
Improving the employment chances of people living with disability means changing the attitudes of the wider community. Leeanne says that this change starts in schools.
"We want autistic people to be able to have the same jobs as everyone else, which means working at the same site as everyone else, and I don't think it will ever happen until we get it right at a school setting, where mainstream students are so used to working alongside students with disabilities, not just autistic students. I think before we are accepted in the work place that has to happen first."
Would you like more information or support in your job search or career?
Job Access can provide you with a variety of resources that point you in the right direction of employment information and support.
Y Connect is a mentoring program run by YWCA that seeks to empower young women living with disability to progress their goals for employment or career development.
SA Gov Work and Careers lists resources that support you in your job search and thoroughout your career.
We love to hear your employment stories
If you would like to share your lived experience of employment and careers, please email Carey at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on (08) 8373 8332.