On the International Day of Disabled People I ventured out unnaturally early for a discussion about disability and employment at my local Westpac Bank. I have to admit I heard little I hadn’t heard before, many times. Hearing the same, (perfectly valid) points again and again makes me a bit snippy. While many things have changed, humans and the systems we create have not. My main takeaway points, along with subsequent reflections are:
It’s all about hearts and minds, but there are also persistent, deep-seated structural and systemic barriers, particularly in recruitment, that need more than good intentions and fine words to fix.
There is still wasteful and appallingly high unemployment among disabled people.
Those with tertiary qualifications still find it far more difficult to get work in comparison to their non-disabled peers.
Discrimination is widespread.
Universal design matters for customers and employees
Disabled people don’t need gatekeepers; we need collaboration, co-operation and equality. Disabled people are really good at problem solving. We do it every day.
More quality and comparative data is needed, as in most areas of disability.
This situation can change, but it will need more than feelgood effort. Since government departments and related public organisations are reluctant to lead the way, maybe corporates might like to have a go. The much-vaunted kiwi innovation skills could be usefully applied here.
But employers should no longer expect kudos and fulsome public praise for employing one disabled person and thinking they have done us a favour. It has to be the real deal. Kudos to employers who “get” that it is equally about disabled customers as it is about their disabled staff.
Enabling technology is available, compatible and useable, but it is useless if employers refuse to accept or won’t understand the value it adds, or implement it creatively, working with their disabled staff. It isn’t the whole solution either. Mostly it is about people.
Less talk, more action. Most disabled people want to contribute.
None of this is new.
Let’s turn the issue around. What is the cost of exclusion? Disabled people are an asset in the best sense. Talent should not be wasted. There is a cost to the economy – international research has found that exclusion costs between 3% and 6+% of GDP.