Attitudes Towards Disability

Is there a need for a shift in the way support agencies view disability?
Ben Harris - Employment Consultant 15/06/2016

Research has shown that a significant percentage of our population manages a disability of some kind. There have been studies with differing figures, but the general consensus points to approximately 24 percent of New Zealand’s population. Global data indicates that people with a disability have a significantly higher rate of unemployment (approximately 50 percent) with the average global unemployment rate being approximately nine percent.

Though many of these figures are correlated from studies of ten plus years ago, and governments having made significant moves towards inclusive workplaces for disabilities; it is no surprise that as our population booms, so too does the number of people with disabilities. This rising number is also compounded by the global phenomenon of the increasing prevalence of disabilities, especially amongst the youth. With terms such as “ADHD” and “The Spectrum” becoming fairly common in the vocabularies of Kiwi’s, what does this all mean for the labour market?

Obviously, this issue is one of significant importance, even for those not directly involved in the Disability sector. With numbers as high as 24% of Kiwis having a disability; chances are, if you are an employer, you will be impacted by this issue in some shape or form. With the percentages painting the picture and the figures finding the facts, what can we do with what seems to be a somewhat overwhelming problem?

As with most problems faced by society, ask the people caught in the middle of them and they will often say “Education” is the key to fixing them. What someone is really saying when they say “education”, is that if people only knew the truth about the situation, then discrimination, assumption, and segregation would be all but non-existent. However, in reality, we need to shift the focus from “education” to the application and efficacy of promoting these truths. Who, how, when and where?

Support agencies cannot rely on government initiatives to educate our communities. But rather education must start at a grass roots level. There will be and have been little positive results from laws being passed against employment discrimination, and on a whole, the general attitude towards disability has seen little shift. What is needed however is the education of those with a disability. If the person with a disability is unaware of their rights but even more importantly their strengths, then few other people around them are going to be. This is where support agencies need to step up to the challenge.

Time and time again, history has shown us that people thrive on a hand-up, not a handout. The old adage of “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” is so incredibly applicable to the disability employment sector.

As an Employment Consultant, I see countless people downtrodden and beat at the notion that they are somehow obsolete due to their disability and/or barriers. A huge part of my approach to Disability Employment when assisting the Jobseeker, is to first see their own worth, and then a lot of the other associated issues take care of themselves. This is not a form of superfluous positive thinking and buzz words, but rather a guidance towards understanding that “knowing one's limits is to know one's strengths.”

Every person has something to offer this world and it is less about trying to figure out what that something is and more about helping people to first believe that they are included in this “every person”. Every person, no matter their race, creed, age, gender or barrier has value and if there is a need for any education, it is for education on this very fact. In simple objective sales terms; “a Jobseeker is a product that the employer wishes to buy”. If the employee isn’t aware of their inherent worth, then how will the employer ever know? Once again another adage works here. “You can’t sell a product that you don’t believe in”.

To take this concept one step further, we can see that arguably Jobseekers with a disability can be a better option for employers. Realistically speaking, we can only be sure of a product’s integrity by knowing its limits. Shackling equipment, for example, is priced and purchased according to its load limits. Why? Because when you know the products limits, you are safe to assume that it can perform anything up to that limit without issue.  These “limitations” shouldn’t hinder a purchase, but rather it should help define and qualify it. We see this with Power tools that are sold with the warning of “Not for industrial use”. This doesn’t stop people from buying that particular power tool and likewise understanding the limits of a Jobseeker shouldn’t hinder their hiring.

When a Jobseeker knows their limits, they naturally know their strengths. It is up to support agencies to create an environment of ability and education of each and every Jobseeker. Expecting the public to change its perception will never be achievable if Jobseeker’s perceptions match that of the publics. Change must start somewhere and that somewhere is in the mind of Jobseekers themselves. A Sledge hammer and a Claw hammer are both hammers. Neither is particularly good at doing each other’s roles, but this does not make either one less of a hammer. It is up to those in the support roles for Jobseekers to ensure that each person understands their Disabilities. By understanding their disabilities, they understand their limitations. And by understanding their limitations, they understand their Strengths.