Not only is it difficult for people with disabilities to find a job, it can also be difficult to feel safe and challenged, say two Australians with firsthand experience.
“Having a meaningful job is difficult because … they see you have a wheelchair and assume you can’t travel without actually asking you,” says Abigail *.
Abigail says she found finding a job easy because her disability isn’t always visible. It was more of a struggle for her to keep her job.
Getting just one interview was almost impossible for Eric Barrett.
Your experiences reflect the statistics. The unemployment rate in Australia has been around 5 percent in recent years, and unemployment for people with disabilities is twice as high at around 10 percent.
If you select the disabled check box, applications will not be considered
When it comes to work, younger people are worse off.
The Australian Network for Disability found that people aged 15 to 24 were ten times more likely to be discriminated against for their disability than people aged 64 and over.
Eric is in that age group. He is in his early 20s and full of confidence and charm.
If you haven’t seen Employable Me on ABC TV or iview, Eric lives on the Central Coast of NSW and is passionate about working and helping others.
Eric believes that his job allows him to be a full part of society now. (
Delivered: Employable Me
But when Eric speaks you have to be a little more careful than you usually do. He has cerebral palsy which affects his movement and speech.
Watch Employable Me
Employable Me accompanies people with neurodiverse diseases such as autism and Tourette’s syndrome in their search for meaningful employment.
“I applied for a ton of jobs, but when I apply I should tick the ‘I have a disability’ box and they would ignore the application,” he says.
“I want people to see me before they see my disability.”
Showing that disability is a normal part of life motivated Eric to be filmed and featured in the second series of Employable Me.
“I wasn’t really expecting anything [of being on TV] But I wanted to know how difficult it can be to find employment when you have any disabilities, “he says.
At the end of the episode with Eric, he was offered a part-time job at Central Coast Health on the admin team, where he continues to work a year later.
“I can stand up and feel part of normal society,” he says.
“I have a really good team that help me with my work and I couldn’t speak highly enough of them because they are so supportive.”
“Nobody would want me”
Abigail works from home for a few hours, which she thinks is easier than it used to be because of advances in technology. (
Pexels: Vojtech Okenka
Abigail had no problem getting her public service job about 20 years ago after graduating from college because, unlike Eric, her disability is not always visible.
“It helps you get to the workplace, but it also makes it very difficult when you are there because people don’t accept that you have something that you need help with because you look normal and healthy,” says she.
Disability discrimination at work
Australia has the highest poverty rate in the OECD for people with disabilities. The barriers and discrimination in the workplace are part of the reason.
She has a musculoskeletal disorder, which means that she uses a wheelchair if she has to go further than her desk. Full-time work was tough on her body too.
“I had to go part-time and that was really hard to come by,” she says.
“I had a manager who decided this meant I wasn’t doing my duties. She wanted to label me underperforming because I had to work part time, which then puts you on the path of being managed and losing your job . ” that was really stressful. ”
Abigail says she was able to negotiate part-time hours with the medical approval of her own doctor as well as a doctor appointed by her employer.
“It’s confrontational because you don’t have to admit that you have these problems and that you have to work part time now and it affects the rest of your life,” she says.
“And then it was difficult to find doctors who understood the condition enough to be ready to make that call.”
The doctor appointed by the employer also recommended that she be allowed to work from home for a few hours.
“It means that I am able to work more hours. It makes it easier for me to find a meaningful public service job, because otherwise I would work so few hours that nobody would want me,” she says.
ABC in your inbox every day
Get our ABC Everyday best newsletter every week
Excluded from social events
According to Abigail, most work events take place in places where wheelchair users cannot access, which means it is too difficult for them to attend social events with colleagues. (
It’s not just Abigail’s bosses who can think about her physical needs, she says – her co-workers often forget or find it difficult to include them too.
When she saw our story about what to do if you are banned from workplace events, she emailed that this was also something she experienced.
What to do when workplace events exclude you?
Getting to know work colleagues can be critical to career advancement, but some find it harder to get involved.
“I have to use a wheelchair if I want to get around and cover any kind of distance,” she says.
“They either don’t think about finding an accessible place or they can’t.
“It’s depressing in a way because you realize that there are these physical barriers no matter what you think you are doing. They will always be there. Which is not pleasant.
“It isolates you from people.”
Disability is a normal part of life
Both Eric and Abigail want employers to see what someone with a disability can do instead of focusing on what they can’t.
“I know a lot of people who would be amazed to hear that there are people with severe cerebral palsy who have PhDs and are working in universities,” says Abigail.
Make the most of your work in 2019
Is this the year you switch careers, ask for a raise, or just find a better work-life balance?
“I think you have to challenge your understanding to see beyond the visual part or the invisible parts.”
While the Discrimination Act states that employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities when hiring employees, Abigail and Eric believe it happens all the time. Australian research supports them, finding that employers often overestimate the cost of hiring people with disabilities.
“It’s still going to happen behind closed doors,” says Eric.
“I think networking works better than applying online.
“”[I want] Society, seeing disability as a normal part of life and not being afraid to meet someone with a disability. “
* The name has been changed to protect privacy