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May 29, 2019

Making a Difference

by Beau Vernon

Statistics:
– 1 in 6 people in the world live with a disability.
– Australia rates 21 out of 29 OECD countries for Disability employment rates.
– Australia ranks 27 out of 27 OECD countries for people with a disability at risk of living in poverty.
– In the U.S 27% of people with a disability are employed compared with 75% without a disability.

These numbers (particularly the Australian ones) annoy me so much. How can Australia, this beautiful country of ours, rank so low. It’s not right and you can make a difference.

Yes, people with a disability have their weaknesses…… Just like everyone else (Sorry dad but you struggle with technology). But gee a lot of people with a disability have unbelievable strengths. Strengths that we need to start to recognise.

So why is the person on the left far more likely to be employed than the person writing this article on the right?

I think some major reasons are:
– Putting limitations on people rather than looking at what they can do.
– People are scared, not knowing what to say to someone with a disability. (I used to be you, word of advice, be yourself and treat them as you would anyone else).
– I think it’s a lack of knowledge around the benefits that someone with a disability can bring to your workforce.
– Also a lack of knowledge around the support for employing someone with a disability.

In 2012 a sporting accident left me with quadriplegia. I have limited upper body use, no movement in my fingers, and no movement from my chest down. I spent 8 months in hospital and couldn’t return to my previous job as a tradesman.

Sitting at home by myself after getting out of rehabilitation was one of the worst and best experiences of my life. I felt: 

Lost

Lonely

Worthless

I felt less of a person

Looking back on that, I don’t think it was because I was now a quadriplegic, I think it was because I lacked meaning and purpose in my life. I didn’t have a job, I couldn’t play footy, I had no structure and purpose to get up in the morning.

I think everyone that hasn’t had a job or something meaningful in their life has felt these emotions before… Whether you have a disability or not.

I was fortunate enough that Clay Mackinnon at the AFL looked past what I couldn’t do and looked at what I could bring to the organisation and gave me a job. There is 3 things that benefit from employing someone with a disability that I’d like to look at:

  1. The Disabled person, their family and friends.
  2. The organisation.
  3. Society.

The disabled person, their family and friends.

It gives the person meaning, purpose, makes them feel they are a part of a team, makes them feel valued and that they are a contributing member of society. It has a flow on affect to their family who are proud of their achievements (I was lucky to see a dad crying the other day about his sons achievements in getting a job).

There is no way I could be doing the things that I am today without that first opportunity. That opportunity has allowed me to be more confident, and live a happy life. I’m now a Senior coach of Phillip Island Football team (In my 4 years as coach I have been in 4 Grand Finals and won 2), I do a lot of motivational speaking, I am a director of Interact Australia a disability company that provides Disability Employment Services and Community Service for disabled (I also work in the organisation as well), I am a National Youth Mental Health Advocate for Headspace, I am involved in the Robert Rose Foundation and Wings for Life World Run. I have a wife and 2 kids, I surf on a powered surfboard, play golf in a stand up chair, I live a good life which allows my family to be happier. And if not for that first opportunity I doubt I’d live half the life I live today.

There is no doubt that in life we are happier when we do things for others than if we do them for ourselves. Give someone with a disability a go and it’ll benefit you just as much as anyone. 

The organisation:

When it comes to profitability, more disability inclusive companies revenues were 28% higher, and profit margins were higher by 30%.

But its way more than that. The company experiences a better culture, morale goes up, people gain a better perspective on life, it creates a connectedness amongst the group (see video posted at the end), it teaches people more about resiliency.

Before I had my injury, there would be days I’d go to work not wanting to go and dragging my feet. People with a disability have learnt to appreciate work, and understand it is a privilege and not a chore, they come in with a massive smile on their face thankful for the opportunity, and I have no doubt that rubs off on the rest of the organisation. 

People with a disability have less sick days, and are more loyal to their organisation.

Society:

There is no doubt I am a better person because I have been exposed to different disabilities over the last 6-7 years.

One of the reasons why people with a disability aren’t employed, is because people are nervous and uncomfortable around what is foreign to them. We need to get more people with disabilities out in the workforce so that people are exposed to these wonderful people and feeling more comfortable. As mentioned before being exposed to different backgrounds, cultures, disabilities, gives you a better perspective on life, it creates a better connectedness in Australia, it makes you appreciate the things in your life that little bit more. Since hurting myself I have been very lucky to go to different events with a wide range of disabilities; Intellectual, Autism, Deaf, blind, emotional, physical etc. and I always leave those days with a massive smile on my face and feeling of happiness. Because I take a step (wheel 🙂 ) back and look at all these people who have endured so much in their lives, so much hardship, so much set back, and they have a massive smile on their face and appreciate the things they have. I am a better person because of being exposed to those days and people. 

Support

A big thing for companies is thinking that they want to be more inclusive etc but they don’t know how, or their workplace isn’t appropriate. Well there are plenty of supports out there.
I work for Interact Australia which can assist you in employing someone with a disability and if you like what you see in this article please go on to their website www.interact.com.au Or get in contact with myself. I am so passionate about the area. 

Companies don’t understand that they have these supports out there for them (For Free). Someone like Interact can assist you with things like:

Recruitment Phase

  • Job analysis and job descriptions
  • Advertising the job to our pool of candidates
  • Screen, interview and shortlist suitable candidates (There are many different disabilities)

Employment Phase

  • Negotiation of wage subsidies (Up to$1500)
  • Delivery of diversity training to existing workforce
  • Provide advice on workplace modifications to support your new employee in the work environment. (Employee Assistance Program provides 100% of funds to allow the employed person with a disability access to your workplace)
  • On the job support for your new employer, and their team.
  • Discuss best practice for induction programs, buddying, mentoring, flexible work environments and training for all employees.

Now lets think about that person with Quadriplegia and limited upper body use (lets call them Beau). If I close my eyes and think about Beau, I would think that there is no way that Beau could do anything for themselves or others, or that they could be happy. There is no way that I think Beau, could coach senior grade footy and have 6 other jobs. There is no way that I think Beau, could surf with a powered surfboard, play golf in a stand up chair, be married and have kids.

There are many different disabilities and you need to get the right person with the right strengths for your organisation. But we need to stop looking at what people can’t do, and what they can.

If we can do that then we are going to create a pretty unreal organisation and society.

No one can create connectedness like someone with a disability. Watch this video. There is no way an able body person could have this effect. Lets raise the bar on what people with a disability can do and support them to do it. You won’t regret it.

jason-mcelwain-autistic-basketball-hero
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