A new program designed to empower the deaf community through entrepreneurship education is set to launch in Western Australia next month.

Co-created by profit for purpose organisation Access Plus WA Deaf in partnership with entrepreneurship educator and consultancy, Gemstar, the HiddenGems program is designed to equip Deaf and hard of hearing people with essential skills that are required to start and run a business.

The first-of-its kind program is a modified version of Gemstar’s internationally recognised YoungGems Entrepreneur and Innovation Program, now an accredited Diploma with Kaplan in Singapore.

Access Plus WA Deaf is a recipient of a combined Commonwealth and WA government NDIS Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) grant to increase employment opportunities for people with disability in WA.

David Gibson, CEO of Access Plus WA Deaf said the profit for purpose organisation is excited to collaborate with Gemstar to bring this program to the Deaf and hard of hearing community in WA.

“People with hearing loss can be socially isolated and economically disadvantaged with data indicating that the employment rates for people with hearing loss are 20.5 per cent lower for men and 16.5 per cent lower for women,” he said.

Gibson added that there is a global trend, buoyed by innovative technology, of deaf and hard of hearing people opening their own businesses or becoming part of the gig economy, however we haven’t quite seen this happen to the same level yet in Australia.

“The HiddenGems program will prepare deaf or hard of hearing people in learning ‘real world’ skills coupled with mentoring, training and strategic guidance, for deaf-owned or operated businesses to be successful based on their unique circumstances.”

Gemma Manning, CEO and founder of Gemstar said Gemstar was delighted to bring its international program to WA’s Deaf and hard of hearing community as a first in Australia.

“We are firm believers that entrepreneurship should be accessible by everyone yet unfortunately this isn’t the case,” she said.

“Entrepreneurship still lacks diversity and as leaders, we need to change this and open up entrepreneurship to all members of the community, especially those who are often overlooked and not given the opportunity to participate in such programs.

“Being independent through skills to help you create and run a business is incredibly empowering and this is an area that Gemstar champions. We provide a safe and nurturing environment for all and can’t wait to assist Deaf and hard of hearing people in WA with solving real world problems and developing solutions with global relevancy.”

One in six Australians currently suffer from some form of hearing loss. Adults with hearing loss are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed and they face many obstacles in their careers, from unexpected barriers, to attitudinal discrimination in the workplace.

A person with hearing loss earns an average of $10,000 less than people with no hearing loss or treated hearing loss. Hearing loss also costs Australia $12 billion annually in lost productivity and other impacts.

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