2 December 2020

A piece on International Day of People with Disability by Chief Executive of Life Without Barriers Claire Robbs.

I think this year’s theme for International Day of People with Disability is spot on. We are being asked as a nation to celebrate the contributions people with disability make as part of the communities in which we live. But more than that, we are asked to challenge our own ableism and see the ability in people, not the disability.

It is shameful that over generations we have inducted ourselves to a way of thinking that disability means something less. As much as we perhaps like to believe we are advancing in our commitment to human rights as a nation, we don’t have to peel the layers back too far to see we have a long distance to travel to truly level the playing field where everyone is welcome, appreciated and accepted.

No matter how much I see the staggering issues people with disability face in accessing employment, I am deeply struck by it every time;

  • 93% of people with disability aged 15-64 have experienced difficulty in finding employment.

  • People with disability aged between 15 and 64 are twice as likely to be unemployed than people without disability.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the unemployment rate for people with disability has risen 8% since 2003. We are yet to see a measure for the short and long term impact of COVID-19 on job losses for people with disability.

The statistics go on.

Labour force participation is what many of us take for granted. When general unemployment rates rise, we baulk as a nation. Low rates of unemployment are a source of pride in Australia, we have become adept at job creation. For people without disability.

Despite our communities being made up of a diverse mix of people including more than 4 million people living with disability, ableism persists. Ableism is fundamentally a belief that typical abilities are normal and even superior. A society that thinks from an ableist perspective operates on the flawed narrative that people with disability are defined, (and confined), by what they cannot do. This thinking is evident in many companies and organisations across Australia and it influences who they exclude from their workforce. And overwhelmingly people with disability are being excluded.

Life Without Barriers works alongside people with disability every day in more than 400 communities in Australia. We meet people with interests, skills, capability, talents and ambition who have a great deal to offer employers.

What we know is that no person thrives in an environment where they are continually told they can’t, or where they are excluded because there is an assumption that they can’t. As we welcome International Day of People with Disability, I think it’s time we challenged our society and particularly employers to see the ability, not the disability.

I encourage you to visit our website and access free resources as part of our #employmentwithoutbarriers campaign to help you get started as an employer or as a hiring manager. Explore how inclusive your workplace and recruitment practices are. It is never too late to open your doors and benefit from a diverse workforce.

Have a fantastic day celebrating International Day of People with Disability and contributing to a more equitable workplace. I encourage anyone who wants to, to reach out to any member of the Life Without Barriers team who will share our experiences about how we are creating employment without barriers.

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