Just ask the question: Barriers to disability employment
29 May 2019 at 12:08 pm
When Kelly Schulz, who has been legally blind since birth, was offered her first job at the end of an interview, she was thrilled.
But five minutes later, a senior hiring manager informed her that due to not being able to accommodate her disability, they would not be giving her the job.
“It is probably one of the crappiest reasons not to get a job because it’s kind of the one thing I can’t do anything about,” Schulz told an audience during a disability and employment panel on Friday.
While she now works as a customer protagonist at the telecommunications company, Belong, the story she shared is one of many people with disability know only too well.
Schulz was joined by industry experts from both the disability and technology sectors to discuss the challenges faced by people with disability in the workplace, as well as the role technology could play in creating a more inclusive workplace environment.
The event also marked the launch of the TOM Makeathon, where tech equipment is built to address a problem identified by a person with disability.
Schulz said that one of the biggest barriers, when it came to employing people with disability, was hiring managers that believed employing someone with a disability would make their life too hard.
“We’ve got a lot of HR, diversity and inclusion professionals who are trying to implement unconscious bias training and diversity policies, but until hiring managers get themselves past this point of thinking a person with a disability is only going to make more work for them, we aren’t getting anywhere,” she said.
“The more people with disability that come onto our teams the more likely we are to be seen as equals,” she said.
She also said that while technology was great, identifying basic accessibility issues in workplaces would go along way.
“Technology is fantastic but sometimes it just comes down to; ‘well, there’s a step that’s this high, therefore access is completely denied’,” Schultz said.
“Why are we trying to make choc chip hazelnut with coffee sauce ice cream when we haven’t even got vanilla right.”
Peter Horsley, the founder of Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s technology accelerator Remarkable, said he knew technology could be developed for good. He gave the example of a startup that was using AI to remove bias from job ads.
“So for someone with autism, they might read a job ad quite literally and say if there are nine attributes that are needed in a job and I don’t have one of those attributes then that job is not for me,” Horsley said.
He said it was also up to the people in workplaces to ensure that assistive technology was not a barrier for people with disability.
“One of my staff members with a disability wanted to stay later than 4:30 pm but couldn’t, because that’s when the door locked automatically and she wouldn’t be able to get out,” he said.
“So we got some automatic doors installed for her and she was then able to have autonomy and her own independence, which is what we want to aim for, things that actually reduce barriers and allow people to be independent.”
All the panelists agreed that while there were many inclusion issues left to tackle, a shift of thinking about what people with disability had to offer was the first step.
“We need to start to think about the people in our world who have a disability that can add something to our lives,” Horsley said.
Wrapping up the panel, Amy Marks, a youth disability advocate and film and media professional, asked the audience to question non-accessible areas of their work and why it couldn’t be changed.
“I would really challenge everybody in this room when you go back to your workplaces to just ask why is it like this. Why does the door need to shut at 4:30 pm?” Marks said.
“Just start leading with the question of why, because more often than not it’s just that that is the system that’s in place.”