I sat down with Bethany Knight, a participant of the NDIS with Cerebral Palsy and discussed the challenges she faces within the workplace.
Amaya - I think, in some ways we’ve come such a long way, but I also feel that we’re still so far away from inclusivity and equality, just in terms of employment.
You are one of very few of my clients that are employed, and it is a goal for a lot of people. But I think that most workplaces are still so far behind with providing resources, opportunities, and training. Corporations need to put in place a commitment to invest in training for future employers and the staff they already have. Which is essential to work alongside and support people with various learning challenges, or physical challenges, as I see it. And that’s probably because it requires more money, more resources they must spend on someone. So, they’re not willing to invest.
I have looked at seek ads that promote and encourage applicants from Culturally and Linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with a disability or first nations people to apply. But I always ask myself, what is the reality for a lot of places saying, “okay we’ll take someone on, cognisant of the fact that we will have a few extra challenges, but on the other hand, because they have a completely different perspective on things, we can also tap into that. We can use this employee as a resource to communicate with other people and develop a workplace where everyone has something to offer.”
I feel like there’s always room for it but it’s just whether the businesses or organisations are willing to do what it takes. And I think that the money-making part of running a business still out ways the need for inclusivity. Our society hasn’t shifted nearly enough for this to become a reality.
Bethany- I think you’re right in terms of people with disabilities and work. I would say from the get-go, service providers assume you’re not working, so when I say, I need an appointment on a Thursday because that’s my day off from work, people are like “Oh you work?” Most people are great about it but it’s like, “Ummm no I’m not available all day every day to come in and see you at that time.” It makes it hard to arrange other appointments with your physio that you see every week when they change times on you. But you’re right about workplaces. I mean I was open with my workplace about my CP when I applied for my graduate program, and it could have backfired. But they employed me anyway, or maybe they were just like “we can’t not employ her because she’s sort of disabled.” But still, it’s been a fight to get simple equipment, even coming back from my surgery, which was a big surgery, multiple sides, multiple incisions, you know, two weeks in hospital. Then I got told no, you need to come back on-site, and I was like… “why ? we worked from home for over 12 months during COVID-19” But I got told, they were trying to take away our desk space so I needed to come back in and work from the hospital. And I said, “but I’m not even confident I can walk from my car to the office”. It was weird, it was like I was talking to a brick wall, because it was like, how can you do this ? I’ve told you what my physical issues are, I’ve told you what the procedure was and you’re still forcing this on me. Yeah, it was interesting. But then, low and behold, three weeks later, we are in lockdown again and it was like “okay everyone’s back working from home.
I’m on the Accessibility Action Plan Committee, which is service-wide and I’m the token disability person, and they’re trying to get more people from the community with lived experience of disability. It’s been fascinating because you can see from an overarching point of view that there’s a desire there to employ people with disabilities. But I’m thinking, how on earth can you do that. From a logistical point of view. And the hospital is nowhere near even considering it, because they ask me, “do you think, people with disabilities know how to get resources ? or where to go for support in the workplace ?”
And I’m like no ! “I have been working here for 11 years and any support that I’ve got is only because I’ve gone to a manager who’s been supportive and tried to help me get a chair or something that I needed”. But even getting something simple like a chair with arms to help me lever myself up or a stand-up desk, took like six months, and that was a really basic request. I had to get documentation for a chair, which is just ridiculous. And now they’re like, oh maybe everyone should just get stand-up desks. and I’m like, Well, yeah, maybe they should. you’re going to have fewer injuries statistically. Give people a workplace from the get-go that is open to having resources provided to their staff. Don’t wait for them to get injured or wait for them to tell you they’ve got a disability before it’s offered.
Even simple things like the hospital pathways are not suitable, which blows my mind for a hospital. I can’t wait to tell them about my opinion at the next meeting. For example, the pathways will go from being a concrete path, then all of a sudden it goes to a sandy pathway and then nothing at all, and if you want to cross to the other side of the road where the pathway continues you have to cross a road with no crossing or lights. So, if you are a wheelchair user or anyone parking in the back car park, to get to the hospital or the mental health ward, you’ve got pathways chopping and changing, uneven ground and it’s a real problem for accessibility in general, which is ridiculous, given it’s a hospital. So not only are there going to be disabled people but there’s also going to be people post-surgery or with walking aids.
It annoys me every time I walk around that side of the hospital. There’s no safe place. It’s stuff like that. If the workplace isn’t accessible from the outside, just to the general public, how is that going to be for people with disabilities ? The is a lot of work they must do, to make the workplace inclusive. I mean I know they were having a big discussion about what to put on the job descriptions to encourage people with disabilities to apply, like you said, don’t say it if you can’t off them the right kind of support.
I think one of the goals of the plan was to hire people with intellectual disabilities. I was like, “okay, but to do what ? And who’s going to support them ? because you can’t just be like, sure we’ll employ these people with really diverse needs who potentially haven’t worked before and then give the managers no additional training or have no support structure in place for the people that you employ”. So, I mean I’m very supportive of the workplace being more inclusive but I’m conscious of the fact that you don’t want somebody dropped into a situation where they’re not going to thrive. And, I think, from a personal point of view, people with disabilities don’t want their employment to be tokenistic. I don’t want an organisation to just tick off the diversity box and say “yes, she’s our disabled employee”, you know like, that’s not cool. You want to be employed because you know your role is meaningful and that you’re the best applicant, not just because you have a disability. But that’s my personal view though, I don’t want to speak for anyone else.