In a global environment of embracing diversity in every aspect of life, many Australian businesses are still not realising the true potential and benefits that people with a disability can bring to their operation.
Disability definitely does not translate to inability, except when businesses have the inability to embrace and include people with disability. Disabilities include mobility, hearing, vision, dexterity, learning, mental health and intellectual aspects – all of which can be catered for in a workplace for customers, suppliers and especially employees.
If you’ve never really given the issue a lot of consideration, or perhaps thought implementation was too difficult – here are a number of ways that you can embrace and engage with people with a disability in your business and realise significant benefits on many levels.
Enabling Your Workplace
As a responsible business operator, you are most likely already aware that under the Disability Discrimination Act, employers are required to implement necessary adjustments to their workplace to enable a person with a disability to carry out their role in the business. While the statutory requirements focus on employees, these adjustments are also relevant to the customers, suppliers and other visitors to your premises.
If you have, or want to attract, customers with a disability to buy from you, then having a welcoming and accessible premises is a great start.
Adjustments to the workplace may include ramps, lifts, automated doors, accessible bathrooms and other facilities, appropriate workstations, reception areas, vibrating and visual devices for the hearing impaired and braille signage and tactile surfaces for the visually impaired. The government provides detailed information on these issues and before you start thinking of the costs – the Australian Government also provides funding for such adjustments through the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF). Check out all the details at www.jobaccess.gov.au
With advances in technology, providing, for example braille signage, has become significantly less expensive and more easily accessible in recent years. Simon Harper, Managing Director of Sign to Badge Solutions, a distributor of printers that create compliant braille signage explains that such products are now easily procured from many local sign and print suppliers.
“In the past, producing braille compliant signage involved engraving and other quite time consuming processes making the end product to your business very costly,” Simon said, “but with the new generation UV LED digital printers, raised-texture signage is not only more affordable but can be customised and created onto a range of surfaces including acrylic, in a matter of minutes.”
Just one way that you can easily make your premises more accessible to the visually impaired.
Creating Employment and Building Careers
Research shows that providing gainful employment for people with a disability has significant benefits to the employee, the employer and flow-on effects through the wider community. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 there were 2.2 million Australians aged 14-64 with a disability – that’s 14.4% of the population.
Around 668,100 of these with intellectual disability.
To assist these people to find work opportunities, the Australian Government provides a range of programs and incentives to employers, including a National Work Experience Program which gives employers the opportunity to experience first-hand how people with disability can perform tasks in their working environment. This could be a great option for your business to give someone with a disability the opportunity to prove their capabilities and show what they can bring to your business.
But jobs for people with disability are not limited to stereotypical, menial tasks. The Centre for Disability Studies which is affiliated with the University of Sydney, through its award-winning social inclusion initiative, uni 2 beyond, is providing meaningful learning opportunities at university level and following up with organizing internships and career paths for young people with intellectual disability. https://cds.org.au/uni-2-beyond/
“We are extremely proud of the work we are doing and since establishing the uni 2 beyond programme, we have empowered over 30 students with intellectual disability to participate in this unique tertiary experience in courses across six faculties,” Professor Patricia O’Brien, Director of Centre for Disability Studies said.
Patricia said that while many businesses have implemented their own Disability/Accessibility and Inclusion Action Plans, the needs of people with intellectual disability are often excluded.
“With low employment rates for these people, there are less opportunities for the wider workforce to engage with people with intellectual disabilities, realise their potential and breakdown the stereotypes and barriers,” Patricia said.
uni 2 beyond is a truly remarkable social inclusion education initiative, which has been leading the way in Australia and been awarded with the 20017 NSW Disability Industry Innovation Award and the 2016 Innovative Practice on Inclusive Education and ICT by the Zero Project in Geneva.
The difference between uni 2 beyond (u2b) and other job placement services, is that u2b provides education at tertiary level and then partners with companies to offer internships and meaningful career paths for the young people in the careers of their choice.
Sydney-based consulting engineering firm, MIEngineers has partnered with uni 2 beyond and has found the experience to be most rewarding on many levels.
“Our time spent with the uni 2 beyond intern gave us invaluable insights into the importance of fostering not only within our own industry, but our whole work community,” Robert MacDonald, Director, MIEngineers said, “the experience increased our team engagement and created a sense of public service. The work that the uni 2 beyond staff did prior to and during the placement made the whole experience run seamlessly for both the intern and our team.”
Uni 2 beyond has opportunities available for companies to partner and get involved in this initiative and the Centre for Disability Studies https://cds.org.au/uni-2-beyond/ offers a range of resources and information.
So no matter what type of business you operate, there may be an opportunity for you to include people with disability in your workforce and there are numerous programs to assist you in the process.
Supporting at the Source
If engaging a person with a disability is not possible in your business at this time but you do want to make a significant contribution to the sector, then reconsidering your supply and purchase channels may be an option.
There are numerous enterprises which are specifically established to employ people with disability and in sourcing your business requirements from these organisations is a positive step to addressing many social issues. Check out www.humanlogic.com.au for some inspiration.
No matter the size or type of business you operate, there are numerous ways and programs in which you can engage, embrace and enable people with disability in your workplace.