Working with disabilities

Written on the 13 July 2009

A BRISBANE care and training provider has called for more employers to hire disabled staff, claiming it will help them better engage with the community and reverse the costs associated with unemployment of people with disabilities.

Charlton Brown CEO Kay Ganley, says as 20 per cent of Australians have some kind of disability, a lot of work environments are unknowingly accepting, so employers need to show that same tolerance with visible disabilities.

“The reason why business owners should employ them, taking into account that one in five Australians has a disability, is that the disabled are our clients,” says Ganley.

“We need to think to ourselves, if we can’t engage within our own internal environment, how are we going to engage with clients?”

She says more visible conditions can include mental illness, the impacts of long term diabetes, epilepsy and hearing impediments.

“In our organisation we employ disabled people who have had the experience in previous jobs of being in a position where they were made to be unnoticed and were not working to their full potential — we need to realise that a disabled person can contribute just as much as anybody else.”

Ganley also points to the costs of not including the disabled in the workforce, which are financial for the community in providing subsidies and welfare, as well as the cyclical effects of them feeling undervalued or depressed.

Australian Council for Private Education and Training Queensland (ACPET) disability adviser Donna McDonald, says for more people with disabilities to be employed there is a greater need for the right education that considers their needs.

“Educators and employers still struggle to do the right thing despite their good will because they don’t have enough information or resources to accommodate the specific needs of people,” says McDonald.

“I also worry about the low completion rate of people with a disability undertaking vocational educational and training programs.”

She says that despite an increase in jobs in the 10 years leading up to 2007, there was a significant drop in the amount of disabled people with employment.

McDonald is deaf but she does not regard herself as disabled and says employers and colleagues in the past have been supportive.

“I imagine that my employers and work colleagues over the years would have had to exercise a degree of patience in accommodating my needs. For example, speak clearly, face me, repeat things when I missed what they said, and so forth, but I have never been made to feel a burden,” she says.

McDonald has been employed as a social worker and as a policy adviser for all three levels of Australian government, as well as in the UK. Her essay ‘I hear with my eyes’ was published by ABC Books and the Griffith Review in 2007 in A Revealed Life: Australian Writers and Their Journeys in Memoir.


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