It is 35 years since Stevie Wonder lit up Telethon. That weekend, WA fell in love with this superstar American singer, who is vision impaired.
One of Wonder’s favourite sayings is “we all have ability, the difference is how we use it.”
Fast forward to today and the reigning Australian of the Year is Dylan Alcott, one of Australia’s most decorated athletes — a Paralympic gold medallist in wheelchair basketball and a 15-time wheelchair tennis Grand Slam champion.
It is his approach to his own disability and his advocacy for others with a disability that has made him such a universally popular figure.
“We deserve the same opportunities as absolutely everybody else,” Alcott has said. “The biggest barrier we face is the lack of expectation of what people think we can do.”
With so much to give to our workplaces, efforts to increase the workforce representation of people with a disability are long overdue — and exceptionally compelling.
We must ensure our workplaces are inclusive.
Denying a person with a disability a work opportunity because of their disability can be exclusive and discriminatory.
In many cases, a person’s disability should not impact on the work tasks they are expected to perform, especially in the modern, flexible workplace.
And, if we ignore people with a disability and exclude them from the workplace, we are excluding a ready pool of able and willing talent at a time of low unemployment and a skills shortage.
People with a disability, just like everyone else, have abilities, aspirations and contributions to make.
In many cases, a person’s disability should not have an impact on their ability to perform particular job tasks. Often all that is required is a minor modification to the workplace — improved access, flexible hours, a supportive environment or a more considered team approach.
When it does impede employment opportunities, it is important for leaders to look for alternative job openings or to consider job re-design.
Increasing the representation of people with a disability in our workplaces is about harnessing the best of everyone’s ability — because it makes sense.
Australian Bureau of Statistics state that of the 4.4 million Australians with a disability, 2.1 million are of working age.
Of that cohort of 2.1 million, only half are employed. This rate compares unfavourably to employment levels of 85 per cent and higher for those who do not have a disability.
Our failure to boost the number of employees with a disability in our workplaces means that enormous potential is being ignored and the benefits of a more diverse, inclusive workplace are going begging.
Not every job applicant with a disability will meet the workplace requirements.
Even so, it is time for us to test the true abilities of our workplace and make sure our recruitment practices are supportive and truly inclusive.