Same, but different (but really just the same)

The People & Culture Office | Tattoo | Woman

“There’s a saying, diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. But that’s bull because usually the party is up a flight of stairs. People think if they are treating people the same, they’ve got it right. But that’s the essence of discrimination – as experienced by disabled people – is that when you treat them the same as a non-disabled person they can’t even get in the building” Susan Scott-Parker

Before you read on I would like you to pause for a moment and picture in your mind what a person with a disability looks like.

I’ll check back in with you at the end of my post.

Due to unconscious bias, many people with disabilities face barriers to gaining employment (not just meaningful employment, just any employment), which is why the unemployment rate for people with a disability is more than double that of the general population.

In my former life I was a HR Manager for a disability support organisation, while there I noticed that millennials and Gen Z had a really inclusive view towards people with disabilities due to the prevalence of Education Support annexes in the school system. In my school days (I’m 46) children with disabilities were very much separated from the general school population and as a result Gen X and Baby Boomers can find relating to people with disabilities on a human level quite confronting. (Those damn millennials hey)

People will often direct the conversation towards a family member or a carer rather than converse with the person directly, they may stare, ask inappropriate questions, or, in an attempt to act as though they aren’t feeling uncomfortable, will fail to acknowledge their presence all together.

In fact we (as in society, the media et el) are so unused to seeing someone with a disability featured so prominently that sometimes famous people with disabilities are confused for each other. Those that follow the tennis or are a regular viewer of The Project would be familiar with Dylan Alcott, Dylan and fellow paralympian Kurt Fearnley have a running joke on Instagram that they are often mistaken for each other.

Think about applying for work or attending a job interview knowing there is quite a good chance you’ll be discounted as soon as you enter the room (if you’re even lucky enough to get that far).

1 in 5 Australians are classed as having a disability, a lot of people develop a disability throughout their life as the result of an accident such as a motor vehicle accident or falling off a ladder; through suffering a stroke; developing an illness such as MS, parkinson’s or one of the many autoimmune illnesses or through the presence of a psychiatric illness such as anxiety, depression or PTSD.

Picture an Accountant who has had a stroke, and as a result has reduced mobility. There’s no reason why they can’t perform an office based role without any added safety risk at all is there?

Now picture that same person applying for a job with a company who’s pre-employment medical process eliminates all people without excellent functional capacity. When assessing someones fitness for work the inherent requirements of the job are meant to be considered hand in hand with the individuals functional capacity. But quite often it doesn’t, for whatever reason many industries and organisations baulk at the thought of making “allowances” or reasonable adjustments for people that don’t automatically fit the perfect physical criteria.

Maybe it goes back to the idea that they are treating everyone “equally” 🤷🏻‍♀️

Dylan Alcott has established Remove the Barrier to encourage the employment of people with disabilities. Other organisations such as Forest Personnel can assist with the recruitment of people with disabilities. Follow the links through to their websites where you can find some great info on employing people with disabilities.

Something I really want to stress is that a person with a disability isn’t necessarily a person on a disability support pension, or someone with an obvious physical disability such as being in a wheelchair. Disabilities vary between what type they are and the level of functional impairment such as:

  • Physical – affects a person’s mobility or dexterity
  • Intellectual – affects a person’s abilities to learn
  • Mental Illness – affects a person’s thinking processes
  • Sensory – affects a person’s ability to hear or see
  • Neurological – affects the person’s brain and central nervous system,
  • Learning disability
  • Physical disfigurement or
  • Immunological – the presence of organisms causing disease in the body

So right at the start of the post I asked you to picture what a person with a disability looks like, well they look like this

Me – not Rachel from Madison Studio Photography 😀

5 years ago I was diagnosed with Lupus which is an autoimmune illness that attacks healthy organs and tissue in your body resulting in extreme fatigue, joint pain and organ damage.

The People & Culture Office came to being because I found it increasingly difficult over the years to find a workplace and colleagues willing to accommodate (and be inclusive of) my illness & it’s limitations. I knew that with appropriate wellbeing measures in place I could continue being a valued member of society, contributing taxes to the healthcare system that I lean heavily on and continuing to share my skillset with a range of organisations.

And I would have a guess that 99.9% of my clients, business connections and acquaintances wouldn’t even know that I have a chronic illness. Because with the appropriate adjustments in place I can function in a work environment, I can still add value, and the thought that, that part of my life could have been taken away from me would have been devastating.

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Simone Pickering | The People & Culture Office