Susan Ryan addressing disability forum

Disability employment was a main topic for discussion at the recent National Disability Forum. The forum was organised by the Human Rights Commission and chaired by Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan.

Among the speakers was Jane Counsel from Westpac who spoke about disability employment.  At 12.1 per cent, the Westpac group has one of the highest numbers of people working in the corporate sector with a disclosed disability. Counsel said there was no ‘secret formula’ attached to this high representation.  “Our focus is on having the right policies, appropriate technology and training programs. We have an employment action group which is headed by a person with a visual impairment. We also focus on their ability not their disability.”

Disability advocate Mark Bagshaw made the point that it was not disability that was the barrier to employment but attitudes that are the big challenge. “There is a lack of belief in people with disability and being able to hack it. We need strategies to break down this attitude because the whole model is stuck – the employment numbers are not increasing and the gap is not decreasing. There are no significant changes in education, employment or housing. We need ordinary people with disability who are getting on with their lives in the community and in the work force – the real role models not celebrities necessarily – to tell their stories.”  Ultimately, he said it comes down to participation with the right support. “Anything else is a cop-out.”

The forum concluded with Susan Ryan reinforcing the view that was touched on frequently throughout the day. That was the need for a fundamental change in thinking “re-imagining the normal” she said, so people are not defined or segregated.  “Get rid of the stereotypes and this would begin with disability and normality being defined as the same thing.”

Caption: Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan.

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