Am I heard? Am I seen? Am I able?
27 November 2017 at 4:37 pm
It is time to recognise the importance of education and employment for young people with a disability, writes Jack Milne, the Royal Commonwealth Society’s Australian youth coordinator and lead advisor to the Commonwealth Youth Council’s vice president.
Am I heard? Am I seen? Am I able? These are common questions coming from one of the largest minority groups across the globe – young people with disabilities.
In 2015, the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded that almost 4.3 million Australians were living with a disability. Globally, UNICEF reported that among children aged between 0 and 18 years, between 93 million and 150 million had a disability.
There are two stages where we must recognise the importance of young people with disabilities to ensure they can have full and prosperous lives: education and employment.
In terms of education, the ABS confirmed in 2012 that approximately 295,000 young people aged between five and 17 with a disability were enrolled and attending school. A large majority were enrolled at mainstream schools compared to the remaining attending special schools. For those aged between 20 and 24, only 14 per cent were studying towards an university degree and another 18 per cent were undertaking VET. These statistics indicate that state governments need to continue with improving the participation in education, although it seems to be improving over time. This has been achieved by ensuring that youth with disabilities are placed in environments where they can be accommodated with reasonable adjustments, and more importantly reach their full potential.
State governments have provided youth with disabilities and their families with furniture design and access to classrooms, learning materials, electronic handouts and content in other converted formats to ensure there is optimum accessibility. In 2016 the Australian government made it so all registered students will receive free online access to Understanding Learning Difficulties: A Practical Guide. This guide has been designed to provide principals and teachers with greater awareness and understanding of students with learning difficulties. These practises continue to ensure there is increased access and inclusiveness for disabled students to receive an education that is fair, equal and inclusive of where one can prosper.
With relation to employment, it was indicated that only 53.4 per cent of people with a disability aged between 15 and 64 were participating in the workforce. More so, only 27 per cent were working full-time and 21.1 per cent were employed part-time. However with an educated and skilled young person with a disability, these numbers increased.
To assist in the development of young people reaching their full potential, and employers realising the importance of young people with disability, the Australian Network of Disability has helped prospective students secure seasonal internships via their Stepping Into Program and laid out a pathway of gaining experience, skills and capabilities in the private and public sector.
Private companies must still be pressured for their recruitment of ambitious young individuals with disabilities, although we are making inroads here. The Australian Public Service Commission recently launched GradAcess, a two pilot program to get recently graduated students into graduate programs and working within the Australian Public Service. Besides this, the Australian Public Service has a RecruitAbility scheme, that encourages youth to reach the next stage of recruitment regardless of whether they meet the role’s minimum requirements. The scheme aims to create greater participation of young people with disabilities, and give youth the confidence to apply for a job and pursue a career in the Australia Public Service.
When we understand the importance of the transition from education to employment for young people with disabilities, the Australian Human Rights Commission believes it will have significant benefits for the workforce, economy, the community and young people themselves.
With the right level of education it will lead to a career with increased income, higher living standards and a greater sense of identity and self-worth. It will also reduce the demand on welfare. Therefore, let’s push the involvement and prominence of young people with disabilities in these two areas, education and employment.
When considering the opening questions, “Am I heard, Am I seen? Am I able?”, the answer for young Australians with disabilities may be answered in our national anthem: “Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free…Advance Australia Fair.”
While some may suggest otherwise, leading up to the International Day of Disability (3 December), it is time to make the day a cornerstone for continuing to raise awareness of education, and the importance of young people, and indeed all people, with disabilities. It will assist in shifting us into a more inclusive, fair and equal society, where nobody is left behind in education and employment, and we can all say “I am heard, I am seen and I am able”.
About the author: Jack Milne is currently the Royal Commonwealth Society’s Australian youth coordinator and lead advisor to the Commonwealth Youth Council’s vice president, where he is facilitating a campaign, #IAmAble, championing the engagement of young people with disabilities in education and employment across the Commonwealth. Milne graduated with a MSc Business Analysis and Strategic Management at The University of Manchester, and at present is employed in the Australian Public Service.