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Speaker Interviews

Hamish Fibbins

Pathways14 themes are inclusive, innovative and ingenuity, can you tell us about your work and research related to this?

While my work as a clinician involves working with people living with mental illness, I am currently researching the effects of exercise interventions targeting mental health clinicians. Research suggests that staff that are healthy and regularly exercise are more likely to speak to their clients about getting moving more. It's a fairly new and novel idea in the mental health sector but we believe it might have some really important effects on improving health outcomes for patients of the service.

You're working on Keeping the Body In Mind, what correlations or even causations, are there behind physical and mental health?

Our team delivers physical health interventions, mainly focusing on diet and exercise, to people living with severe mental illness, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, side effects of antipsychotic medication, combined with higher rates of lifestyle risk factors, result in significant weight gain leading to increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and resulting in early risk of death about 10-15 years less than the general population. We also know that people living with mental illness are more likely to exercise less, smoke more and have poor nutrition which can also exacerbate symptoms of mental illness.

The good news is that a lot of great research is emerging showing us that if we can get clients exercising regularly and eating more nutritious foods, we see improvements to mental health symptoms as well as reducing that life expectancy gap.

As disability practitioners, we are seeing a much larger increase in students registering with psychological conditions over physical conditions, in your professional opinion, do you think there are more stressors today causing these conditions or do you think we are becoming more comfortable with disclosing this information?

Certainly, the rates of people reporting of mental illness are becoming increasingly common. We know that there is reduced stigma nowadays associated with some mental illnesses which means that young people particularly are disclosing their concerns to friends, family, their universities, and health practitioners.

Evidence suggests that young people are facing similar issues that previous generations did which may contribute to poor mental health. There can sometimes be a tendency to blame technology and social media on increased rates of mental illness, and while there are areas of concern, online support platforms are being used more and more for peer-to-peer support.

Students can underestimate how being more physically active can help foster a healthy mind, which can make them more vulnerable when facing new challenges at university, particularly while being more sedentary in study life.

What could workplaces in Australia do to promote and practice better inclusion and diversity?

Employers have a responsibility to foster workplaces that promote good mental and physical health. There is now overwhelming evidence that shows that staff who are healthy are better workers and have lower rates of absenteeism. Introducing policies that support mental health "sick" days and allowing for time to exercise during lunch breaks can actually result in savings for companies.

Universities are also in a unique position to better educate students about good physical and mental health utilising the many clubs and societies they have on offer.

What skills do you hope to people who attend your session leave with?

I'm looking forward to a fun and engaging session with lively discussion with the audience. We'll be talking all things exercise and mental health and I'm hoping attendees will leave with a little more info and practical solutions for their clients.

Nas Campanella

The conference themes are inclusive, innovative and ingenuity (two adjectives and a noun, don't even get me started), can you tell us about your experience studying at university and if any of these themes relate, negatively or positively, to that time?

My time at university was busy and stressful thanks to a timetable that involved balancing part time paid work, classes and unpaid internships. However, the student services department at the University of Technology Sydney [UTS], did their very best to ensure I was given all the tools I needed to achieve my degree. I was given note takers, audio textbooks and where textbooks couldn't be converted from printed copies to electronic versions, I was given one on one tutoring. Lecturers and tutorial leaders would also have worksheets converted into electronic text ahead of class. All of this support meant I found university a very positive and inclusive experience.

Journalism is widely understood to be a cutthroat industry, have you faced any challenges in disclosing your vision impairment or having appropriate workplace adjustments put in place?

I faced discrimination when I first started looking for work. I chose never to disclose my disability in a job application, either doing it when someone called to invite me for an interview or when I walked into a room for the actual interview. It was tough to try and have to convince employers that it was worth taking a chance on me. It showed me how much work society still had to do to change negative perceptions about what people with disabilities can do and how we're treated. Disclosure is a very personal decision. There's no right way or time to do it. The best thing job seekers with a disability can do is ensure they have the right skills, experience and confidence to do the job.

As disability practitioners, we work with students while they're at university to facilitate the reasonable and necessary adjustments to their studies. When they go off into the workplace, this is a space they often need to navigate and advocate for independently. What advice would you give to university leavers on having this conversation and discuss appropriate supports with their future workplace?

Never be afraid to approach a manager about adjustments or supports you need to do your job. I know, it's easier said than done, and having the confidence to do this only comes with experience. However, if you approach them by constantly reinforcing the importance of the support required, be open minded and patient you'll make positive headway. It also helps to know what support you require rather than asking for their suggestions and presenting solutions instead of just problems.

How does the technology you use help you in your role?

I rely heavily on technology. It's how I read newspapers, books, do my research and ultimately produce and present news bulletins. I use screen reading software called Jaws which is a little robotic Americanised sounding voice. Jaws scans text on the screen and reads it out aloud in my headphones. I read the news by listening to Jaws read out the stories I've compiled into the bulletins and then simultaneously repeat what it says.

Does every bulletin run smoothly?

When you rely on technology there's bound to be some pitfalls. There have been times where the computer has frozen on me and that's always scary. I've got two back up computers in the studio which I can jump on if that happens and for the most part everything does run smoothly. If it doesn't I'm always honest with the audience and try not to take myself too seriously.

What could workplaces in Australia do to promote and practice better inclusion and diversity?

Three key areas businesses should prioritise are digital accessibility, disability awareness training and increased investment in workplace modifications. With more and more people using the internet, businesses need to place greater focus on ensuring their websites are accessible. One of the biggest problems is that mainstream society believes people with disabilities can't work. Change the attitude and you'll change the workplace. The best way to do that is to create awareness programs exploring language, policies and workplace adjustments. That will show employees the huge number of benefits that can come with creating a diverse workplace.

Alastair McEwin

You have held many roles over your working life in disability advocacy, what are your thoughts on the current legal rights and support systems in place for people with disability?

People with disability have protection from discrimination in many areas of public life, as covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA). Since the DDA came into operation, we have seen many barriers in society removed, such as access to buildings, public transport, employment and education.

That said, many barriers remain, particularly for people with disability from very disadvantaged backgrounds, such as those who have intellectual disabilities or those living in remote areas of Australia. It is important that all people with disability are supported by a well-resourced disability advocacy sector, who can undertake individual and systemic advocacy on their behalf.

In recent years, we have seen many cuts and uncertainty to the funding of disability advocacy organisations. With the roll-out of the NDIS far from complete, and keeping in mind we still have many barriers, it is vital that we have a very strong advocacy sector that can provide people with disability with the right support to address discrimination.

The previous Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan was a person without disability. Why is it important to have a person with disability in this role?

Given the many issues affecting both older people and people with disability, I acknowledge the challenges Susan, as Age
and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, had in managing both portfolios. She did an excellent job in highlighting the most significant issues for people with disability. This included her outstanding Willing to Work report, following an inquiry into workplaces issues for older people and people with disability.

It is important for the role of Disability Discrimination Commissioner to be held by a person with disability, as this
means the person holding the role has direct and personal experience of discrimination issues that we are trying to remove. It also means that they have additional perspectives and empathy that a person without disability may not have of these issues.

The roll out of the NDIS has been faced with a number of challenges, what role have you had in ensuring people with disability can access this scheme and be supported through this process?

It is my desire to see an NDIS that is rolled out within a human rights and disability rights framework. This means, for
example, seeing an NDIS that complies with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). My role is to ensure people with disability, no matter where they live in Australia, are aware of the NDIS and what it might mean for them. I work collaboratively with the NDIA to ensure we are addressing human rights issues.

You've previously held a teaching role at the University of Technology Sydney, what barriers do you think academics face
in supporting students with disability and how might they overcome these?

Whilst I am no longer teaching at UTS, I know there are still many barriers that don't allow academics to provide a fully
inclusive education to students with disability. This includes a lack of knowledge of disability and how it impacts students with disability in education. Academics are often not aware of the resources and support available to them, including how to provide adjustments to their methods of teaching and materials. The best way to address these barriers is to discuss the issues with the student directly and work with the university systems, including disability support officers, to implement solutions.

What issues do you think higher education students in Australia are facing today? How are higher education institutions helping or hindering those issues?

Many universities have systems that are cumbersome and difficult to navigate. This includes online registration and learning systems. This can be a particular barrier to students who are blind or have low vision. It is important for higher education
institutions to provide online systems that are accessible to all; this can be achieved by using what is known as 'universal design'. Another significant barrier is the way courses are taught and delivered by academics.

Often courses have been taught in a particular method for many years without change; this means it can be inaccessible to
students with disability. An example might be students with learning disabilities. Solutions might include extra time to finish assignments and examinations, or to provide answers in electronic format and not hand-written format.

Your keynote is titled "A post-school future where everyone is included: how do we make that happen?" What skills do you hope the people who attend your session leave with?

In my talk, I will be exploring issues that people with disability experience when moving from school to post-school
options. Often discrimination is so entrenched in the primary and secondary education system that it results in students with disability leaving school, or entering adulthood, with low self-esteem and low self-confidence in their abilities. I hope to leave people with ideas and solutions on how best to improve these issues of self-esteem and self-confidence for their
students with disability.

Manisha Amin

What exactly is 'Inclusive Design' and why is it important/pertinent to implement this in technology?

Inclusive Design is a way of thinking, a mind shift to looking at who your product has excluded and finding innovative ways to solve that issue. We focus on those excluded, often left on the edges as these are the people who the system has failed, or the system just doesn't work for and look to solve for them. This means an innovation like an electric toothbrush for example, which was made to help with mobility, works not only works for someone with arthritis but also for young children. Inclusive design's power is in finding cross cutting abilities and designing systems that will work for them, which in the case of
the electric toothbrush revolutionised the industry.

There are really two reasons why you should include this methodology in technology. First, it is good design. If you are designing technology without an inclusive lens you aren't building a robust, perceivable, operable and understandable product. Inclusive design isn't a silver bullet, but it is a method to fixing the gap between products, services and systems and a person's ability and using this to innovate.

You're on the board of ADHD Australia, a non-profit organisation committed to removing barriers to wellbeing for people affected by ADHD. What do you see as some of the major challenges facing families and individuals living with ADHD?

Like many mental health issues – we discount what we can't see. People with ADHD are often categorised as lazy, thoughtless, slow and poorly parented. The outcomes of the condition and the impact on families is huge. We look to remove the stigma for ADHD and ensure that we have a way for word for families and communities.

How do you think Inclusive design can be embedded into teaching practices?

Inclusive design is used in connection with both the open education movement and the notion of individualised teaching both locally and globally. We know that engagement increases with inclusion, and engagement at an educational level leads to better teaching practices and better student learning. As we move to education 2.0 it's critical that all students are supported and able to learn to the best of their ability. It's critical that we take a look however at the whole system. The child, the parents, the teachers, and the schooling system.

For example, how are teachers recruited, supported and rewarded? How do we create an inclusive environment where the teachers are engaged with their lessons, engaged with that they are teaching and learning themselves and not overwhelmed with the pressures of workload that we so often see?

Another example would be captioning. Even when there isn't a person with a hearing impairment, captioning helps children to read, helps people from non-English speaking backgrounds and helps most of us retain information. Transcriptions of lectures don't only work for people who can't hear.

Technology combined with common sense means that we can relook at the way we teach and support education so that students can thrive. But we do need a whole of education approach.

What issues do you think higher education students in Australia are facing today? How are higher education institutions helping or hindering those issues?

Research by the Foundation for young Australians shows that while more young Australians hold a post school qualification, full time work is increasingly difficult to obtain. While the number of subjects is greater than ever students often struggle with relevance, and the lack of teaching around critical
thinking. In addition, as work changes the relevance of the content of courses changes. Unfortunately for students with disability, class room supports are
patchy. We see great examples and not so good examples. The good news is that there are more individualised opportunities than there have been in the past. If you have the means to access them.

Your talk is titled "Pick me!", what skills do you hope to people who attend your session leave with?

This talk in conjunction with Hudson Australia will look at the graduate recruitment system and focus on outcomes and tips for all students looking for work.

Sharon Kerr

Pathways14 themes are inclusive, innovative and ingenuity, can you tell us about your work and research related to this?

The title of my research is "White Questions, Black Answers". Working in support services and running programs to support students with disability for almost 20 years i found very few, if none, were identifying as indigenous students with a disability. This is what started my white questions to find out the Black answers.

What could we do to better serve our indigenous students with disabilities? As a teacher, you do anything to communicate effectively, in a support role you will do anything to support students you are there to serve.

In order to be culturally safe, I did a Masters in Indigenous Education, I have an Indigenous advisor group and an Indigenous supervisor in Dr John Gilroy. Aside from the usual sorts of farming the literature, which encompasses very little at the intersection of indigenous and disability, I've been listening to experiences of these students, with the aim of developing a framework or at the very least shining a light on the main challenges that students are facing so that student services can support people appropriately.

Why are they not presenting for support, what are the barriers and how is disability perceived by ATSI community generally?

How does culture and cultural understanding of disability impact appropriate provision of support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability?

People have a hesitation to identify with yet another label, they do not focus on a disability and do not acknowledge it as such i.e. They may identify as not being able to hear very well rather than person with disability who has a hearing impairment.

I had a student in her final year who was legally blind, however did not identify as having a disability. I think there is also a perception that help may not be offered and a fear of being judged. However, you don't know what you don't know; If you think you're not so good at something like reading, you may not be aware you have a reading disorder unless you have support systems or knowledge in place to identify this.

I think a lot of the problems exist for people in starting to put up their hand and asking for help. I did an audit of Australian University websites during the last election and will do so during the next election. It was interesting to see that the Disability Support for universities is primarily in one camp and indigenous services is in another, with very little crossover.

For example, of 40 universities, 33 did not indicate support available for student with a disability on their indigenous support page. None of the 40 universities had information on their Disabilities website for Indigenous staff or support contacts.

As a non-Indigenous person, what are your critical success factors in engaging with Indigenous people?

You need to approach the relationships, all relationships for that matter, with respect, an open heart, open minds and a desire to learn. And then be prepared to respond.

The catch cry has been for people to listen to Indigenous voices, a lot have, but after this have done nothing with the knowledge that has been shared. There is a burden or responsibility to respond or act once we are aware of what the situation is.

Higher education institutions are a melting pot for multiculturalism in both students and staff, which has brought up discussions around epistemology. How do you think the structure of our current system of learning, with a leaning towards colonial western academia, impacts students who do not align with that background?

This question is another thesis in itself. If we are talking about people being respected for who they are, this comes down to the cultural safety of the institution, that all staff are respecting, listening and understanding their ATSI students.

What's far more fundamental than the philosophy of education, is major concerns regarding assumptions of affluence, access to technology, access to study spaces, economic security, safe accommodation - these are issues that i think are most important.

Of the 40 universities, only 7 provided the opportunity for ATSI students to seek support without medical documentation. 1 University also noted the need for them to have documentary evidence of their aboriginality. If you're an indigenous student looking at all of this, it's likely you would rather continue as per the status quo rather than seek support.

What skills do you hope to people who attend your session leave with?

I really hope they will listen to some of the issues that face indigenous students with a disability and look internally at their own institutions and be dedicated to responding.

I look at an array of impact factors, which impact students differently depending on institution. I'm promoting a deep push for support in being flexible, relating closely with indigenous support services and linkages to what they're providing to remove divisions between being either an ATSI student or a Disability Student.

We should be creative and innovative in what we as Disability Practitioners know about technologies, practices and methodologies so that educators can action universal design for learning, access to assistive technologies and all supports.

Advocate for change to better serve indigenous students at your institution.

Suzanne Colbert

Pathways14 themes are inclusive, innovative and ingenuity, can you tell us about your work and how it is related to this?

My job is to help large businesses become more accessible and inclusive. My job is to ask good questions. Good questions can lead to innovative solutions. In 2005 we asked some law firms why law grads with disability couldn't get jobs at their firms. Then we asked them what they could do to make it easier. The result was our internship program which started off as "Stepping into Law" - now there are so many disciplines it's just called the Stepping into Program. In order to solve a problem, we need to put people together who have the authority to solve the problem and have the desire to solve the problem. I always look for the win/win in every situation. When it comes to people problems - often if one group 'wins' another group loses. We need to be more inclusive and innovative and always look for the win/win.

Students with disability may interact with AND through the internship program which offers paid placement at some of Australia's leading public and private organisations. How do these programs differ from things like Work Integrated Learning or Professional Internships as part of some student's degrees?

Work Integrated Learning and Professional Internships are usually essential requirements and are counted towards achieving a degree or qualification. They are fantastic practical steps in achieving degree related experience. The 'Stepping Into' internship gives students an opportunity to stretch their thinking about the types of work that interest them and are available to them (on their pathway to their degree). It's a chance to diversify your experience and get to know a blue-chip employer. A Stepping Into internship does not count towards your degree.

Why is it important to progress the inclusion of people with disability in businesses?

Businesses are better when they are diverse and reflect the community they serve. Diverse businesses make better decisions and are more likely to be successful.

You've been involved in the disability sector since 1990, just before the DDA was brought into act, how have you seen the landscape for employment of people with disability change over that time?

There's much greater awareness of the skills and talents of people with disability. Employers - especially large employers are more likely to have 'Diversity and Inclusion' strategies in place which include becoming more accessible and inclusive to people with disability. Unfortunately, this awareness hasn't yet translated into an increase in employment for people with disability. Hopefully that's the next step.

What issues do you think higher education students in Australia are facing today?

The world is so fast paced, and we are always 'on'. Focusing attention is really important. Our attention spans are getting shorter. We need to work on ensuring we have a reasonable span of attention to stay with challenging work - and to do 'deep thinking'. To protect our jobs from artificial intelligence we need to do work that has unique problem solving (including solving people problems) and this needs deep thinking.

What skills do you hope to people who attend your session leave with?

I really want people to think about the diversity of people with disability and to appreciate that the transition from education to employment is REALLY important. Getting this transition right is probably more important for university students with disability because we live in such a competitive world and students need to stack the odds in their favour. The most important skill to learn is how to ask really good questions.

Sharni Burstin and Sara Caplan - PwC's Skills for Australia

Pathways14 themes are inclusive, innovative and ingenuity, can you tell us about your work and research related to this?

The inclusion of people with Disability in VET project is the first time government and industry have come together to explore how the development of training packages could increase the participation of people with disability in VET and the workplace.

This cross sector project aims to equip vocational educators, employers and customer service providers with the skills and knowledge they need to better include people with disability in education, employment and service contexts.

The project is one of several, pioneering the Australian Industry and Skills Committee's (AISC's) new approach to setting national competency standards in vocational education and training (VET). 'Cross-sector' projects are intended to reduce duplication in the sector by addressing common skills needs across industry as a whole, developing new training products that can be implemented across a wide range of qualifications.

The ultimate objective is to increase education and employment opportunities for people with disability across all economic sectors by addressing skill and knowledge gaps across multiple industry sectors.

PwC's Skills for Australia conducted significant consultation about inclusion of people with disability in Vocational Education and Training. Why was this consultation necessary and what themes emerged through your work?

All of PwC's Skills for Australia's projects require extensive consultation, to ensure that our training system meets the needs of employers, learners and rapidly-changing workplace environments.

In this Inclusion of People with Disability project, there were many voices that needed to be heard in order to ensure a holistic and complete approach to achieving the project's objectives. Consultation had to include people with disability, disability support providers, employers, training providers, advocacy groups, government representatives and more. As a national project, it was imperative that consultations spanned all states and territories, as well as different industries and perspectives on disability. Disability is diverse, and therefore so too needed to be the input into the project's findings.

Interestingly, significant commonalities were identified across the large number of industries, disability support contexts and individuals who were engaged. Key themes that emerged included:

From your findings, what are the practical implications for the VET Sector, for employers and for people with disability?

The intended outcome for the project is to introduce new training products into the VET sector, to equip employers, educators and service providers with the skills and knowledge they need to support and include people with disability. These training products will be included in relevant qualification across various industries (e.g. for workers across different industry sectors).

The intended impact is to provide people with disability more opportunities to successfully complete VET qualifications, find employment in sectors aligned to their personal goals and capabilities, and access services like all members of society.

Sara you're a member of the COAG STEM Skills Partnership Forum which is a collaborative action until the National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026, what are the goals of this forum?

The Forum brought together senior leaders from industry and the education sector to lead and facilitate a more strategic national approach to STEM education. Participation in the Forum gave us an opportunity to improve partnerships between industry and the school sector to help drive the engagement, aspiration, capability and attainment of Australian students within STEM disciplines. The Forum focused on three areas: Careers Awareness, Teacher Professional Development and Outcomes and Impact. Forum members met a number of times last year culminating in releasing as issues paper. Written submissions were invited and consultations were conducted in most states and territories. The final report, Optimising STEM Industry-School Partnerships: Inspiring Australia's Next Generation was released in April this year.

Sharni you led the Inclusion of People with Disability in VET Cross Sector Project involving large amounts of consultation, did you find any common themes emerge during this process?

As mentioned above, strong common themes definitely emerged across states and territories and consulted stakeholder groups. To me, three themes that really stood out were:
1. Taking a 'Person-Centred approach': recognising each person as a unique individual with their own strengths, support needs, capabilities and interests
2. Promoting understanding and open dialogue: speaking openly and honestly about what people with disability offer society, what support they need to succeed, and the value that inclusive practice provides to all parties involved.
3. Being willing to explore just how easy and simple inclusive practice can be: inclusion does not have to be complex, expensive or scary. Often times, becoming flexible and more accessible to accommodate the various needs of different individuals can be a simpler process than expected, and provide more benefits than anticipated.

What issues do you think higher education students in Australia are facing today? How are higher education institutions helping or hindering those issues?

Our project focused predominantly on the VET sector, and not higher education. However, a few issues that emerged as potentially common across sectors included:

What skills do you hope to people who attend your session leave with?

We hope that those who attend our session will begin to identify where VET can be implemented across their industries, to support the development of skills and knowledge, to pave the way for future equal access and inclusion opportunities for people with disability.

Daniel pictured far right
Daniel pictured far right

Daniel Valiente-Riedl - JobAccess

You've been working in the Disability Sector for over 12 years, how have you seen the
conversation around disability support change in that time?

The conversation around disability support has seen a significant shift over the years, which is reflective of where the industry stands today. Initially, disability support was 'grant-focused', and disability support providers emphasised approving and providing funds for their clients. Plus, not-for-profit and family-owned charity organisations primarily serviced the sector.

Today, disability support providers work alongside clients and jobseekers to source the right opportunities, enabling them to enter and stay in the workforce. The focus is on improving livelihood and overall quality of life for people with disability. Moreover, the entry of for-profit organisations has enhanced industry competitiveness and service delivery standards. It has resulted in the adoption of a high-quality, outcome-focused approach by service providers to better support people with disability.

JobAccess is a hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers which was created by the Australian Government. How do people with disability enhance the culture of the Australian workforce?

People with disability bring a range of skills and experience to the workplace. Studies1 show that people with disability have a positive attitude and work ethos. Their optimism and resilience have a significant flow-on effect on other employees, improving morale and productivity in the workplace. Hiring people with disability also builds an inclusive and diverse workplace culture, enhancing the company's image among its staff, customers and the community.

Can you expel some common myths workplaces may have in regards to reservations in hiring people with disability?

Various studies2 highlight the clear benefits of hiring people with disability. Employees with disability are:
- Productive – 90 per cent of employees with disability are as or more productive than other employees.

- Safe – 98 per cent of employees with disability have average or superior safety records than other workers.
- Reliable – 86 per cent of employees with disability have average or higher attendance records than other workers.
- Affordable – Higher retention rates of people with disability leads to lower recruitment costs. There is also a range of subsidies and incentives available to hire and retain employees with disability.
- Innovative – Employees with disabilities are also remarkably creative – 75 per cent report having an idea that would drive value for their company versus 66 per cent of employees without disabilities.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing people with disability in gaining employment?

The biggest challenge is the misconception employers have about the skills and talents of people with disability. A common
assumption is that people with disability can only do basic unskilled jobs. The opposite is the case – people with disability bring a range of skills, talents and abilities to the workplace. They work in all sorts of jobs and hold a range of tertiary and trade qualifications. In fact:

- 1 million people with disability are employed across diverse industries and occupations in Australia
- 12 per cent of people with disability who work run their own business
- 32 per cent of employees with disability work as professionals or managers

There are other barriers too, such as employers having the right motivation but lack of confidence – for instance, not being sure if their workplace is suitable to make a person with disability comfortable, or being unaware of the supports that are available to them.

Are there actions workplaces could take to improve access for workers with disability and are there examples of proactive workplaces putting these things into practice?

There are several ways employers can overcome barriers to employing people with disability. Effective communication is one of the more critical steps. In most cases, it can be as simple as using inclusive language, or asking an individual if there is any support or adjustments the employer can provide in the workplace.

Not all people with disability require adjustments. Adjustments can be as simple as a telephone headset or an ergonomic chair. If an employee does need modifications to perform their role, their employer can contact JobAccess to ask about a free workplace assessment to receive advice on changes or support that can be reimbursed by the Australian Government's Employment Assistance Fund (EAF).

Additionally, larger organisations seeking to improve their confidence and capability in hiring people with disability can reach out to the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) – the JobAccess Employer Engagement team. NDRC provides practical help including reviewing policies and procedures and conducting disability awareness training for staff.

What do you think the future job market for people with disability will look like?

The future job market for people with disability is encouraging. As the disability sector continues to evolve through healthy
competition and improved service focus, jobseekers will receive better support from service providers to seek and gain new work opportunities. On the other hand, 77 per cent of Australian employers believe it's important for their workplace to reflect the diversity by including people with disability3. More employers are opening their doors to jobseekers with disability by utilising the support and tools available to improve their disability confidence and competence.

1 Department of Education, Employment and
Workplace Relations, 2011, Employer perspectives on recruiting people with disability and the role of Disability Employment Services,

2 Australian Safety and Compensation
Council, 2007, Are People with Disability at Risk at Work? A Review of the Evidence, ASSC, Canberra, Du Paul University 2007; Graffam, J., Shinkfield, A.,Smith, K., & Polzin, U. 2002, Employer benefits and costs of employing people with disability, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation (17) 251

3 Building Employer Demand Research
Report, Department of Social Services

Trevor Allen
Trevor Allen


Pathways14 themes are inclusive, innovative and ingenuity, can you tell us about your experience studying at university and if any of these themes relate, negatively or positively, to that time?

When I went to university in the early 70s, disability access wasn't even an afterthought. The prevailing philosophy was that everyone did the same thing and that was a fair way of sorting out the successes from the failures. Adjustments or changes to the standard way of doing things was by grace and favour from the academics, and very rarely granted. It was only in very obvious cases like a blind person needing braille that changes were made, and even then they were often refused. This was compounded by the fact that most courses ran for 12 months and were solely assessed on the results of one major formal written exam at the end of the year. There was no legislation guaranteeing access rights and many people, especially those with metal illness or invisible disabilities, were simply failed and disappeared. Most often, people didn't even ask questions about sensible changes, let alone come up with any answers.

You've been involved in the Disability Sector in Higher Education for longer than a lot of our students have been alive, how have you seen it change?

Probably the biggest change has been the movement into a rights-based model of access since the introduction of Anti-discrimination legislation, starting with the State-based legislation in the 80s, and culminating in the introduction of the DDA in 1992. This has meant that people with disabilities have the right to access education, and the opportunity to sue educational institutions if those rights are denied. This has meant many more people with disabilities pursuing their educational goals and succeeding, and this in turn has shown may academics that, far from undermining standards and outcomes, people with disabilities have enhanced the educational experiences of every student. Attitudes have changed dramatically, and while we still have a long way to go until we reach the goal of universal accessibility, we have come a long way. Even after the introduction of the DDA, we frequently had to fight, argue, threaten and sometimes even litigate to get very basic adjustments like electronic texts and exams for people with vision impairments. The role of the Disability practitioner has changed too. They are treated more as professionals now, rather than "Who do the hell do you think YOU are? trying to tell me what I can and can't do with MY course!"

What has kept you in the sector for so long? Where does your passion come from?

I have always had a passion for education and the opportunities that it brings for individuals and society, and I was brought up to believe in fairness and social justice. My own experience with both education and disability initially came together in a niche that I didn't know existed and I have loved using my knowledge, skills and experience to make a difference in people's
lives. My parents were not well educated, my mother finished school at the end of primary school, and my father never had any formal schooling. He was managing a dairy farm on his own when he was 12 years old, but he learnt the basics of reading and writing, and he was determined that his children would never be held back by the lack of an education like he was. My mother spent many years dealing with chronic illness, and spent many years in a wheelchair, so I became familiar with disabilities and the challenges people faced. My particular background in teaching, law, disabilities and writing seemed to come together in the role of RDLO in the 90s and I have had a passion for the sector ever since. Moving into providing services for students and seeing how making relatively simple changes could make a huge difference in people's lives only
enhanced that passion. I have also believed in changing attitudes and systems, so that disability access and inclusion is just the normal way of doing things is equally important, so I have been equally committed to education and awareness training for staff as well.

Why are inherent requirements a requirement and how do they support students?

Knowing what knowledge, skills and capabilities all students will be required to demonstrate as part of their course is very important. Inherent requirements are those things that are essential or necessary to meet the criteria for the award of a degree, and will vary from course to course. They are a vital component in the process of determining whether an adjustment is reasonable or not. For example, sometimes a student may only need to know what to do, and someone else could physically perform the task. In other instances, the student must be able to perform the task themselves, with adjustments if necessary. A medical researcher may need to know how to analyse and interpret the results of blood samples, but does not need to collect the blood themselves. A Nurse, however, would need to be able to collect blood samples from patients as part of their essential duties.

If we don't know what requirements are inherent or essential, we are missing out on critical information in making a decision about what is appropriate, so we could either deny access to people unfairly, or perhaps allow people to be qualified, when in fact they may be missing out essential knowledge and skills that place themselves and others at risk.

Often Disability Practitioner's may have difficulty working flexible placements, can you clarify if fulltime placements are an inherent requirement of courses?

Flexible placements is a vexed issue with many academics, students and disability practitioners. can understand the reluctance of academics to allow more flexible placements, since they have to arrange them for many hundreds of students every semester, and changes make it much more difficult. However, this is where rights=based legislation comes in. In most cases, if flexible placements are required by a student with a disability, the law requires that it it is accommodated. Many areas that have insisted on FT placements actually don't have an inherent requirement to do so. A good rule of thumb is that if a person can work part time in a particular career, then there is nothing inherent in the position that requires full time, so there is nothing inherent in the role of the placement that requires full time.

What do you see being some of the big challenges facing students and disability support staff over the next 20+ years?

20+ years is a long time to predict. It seems like the last 25 years has passed in the blink of an eye! However, a couple of predictions about challenges are the risk of creeping complacency and reliance on technology to solve all access problems. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of technology and its role in enhancing access, inclusion and removing barriers, but as many people also know, the biggest barrier to access is often people's attitudes and understanding of issues, which is not easily addressed by technology. I also believe that it is time for a greater commitment from government and society to ensuring equitable access to education for everyone. The introduction of the NDIS will have profound effects on access to education for people with disabilities, and will be very positive if introduced properly. However, I am concerned that the NDIS will be used as an excuse for governments in particular to pull back more and more from funding disabilities using the NDIS as an excuse, potentially opening up more and more gaps that people can fall through.

I believe that it is important that Disability practitioners and people with disabilities combine in a concerted campaign to push for adequate funding of disability services in further education, the establishment of resourcing and staffing standards and the development of appropriate policies and practices so that there is less variability in the experiences of students and staff from one institution to another.


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