Today is International Day of People with Disabilities. So I thought to write about one of my passions, ‘Disability Employment.’ Why am I passionate about this industry? Because I have a sister with an intellectual disability, and I also worked in this domain.
To be frank, it was one of the hardest sales jobs I have ever had. It entailed, selling people’s skills, qualities, attributes, and experiences to the employer. People with various disabilities. Why was it hard? Because many employers viewed my job seekers as not worthy of their time. From memory, most of the job seekers I worked with were desperate to work. They were some of the most motivated, driven people I had ever come across. But eventually, the loss of self-belief and hope caught up to some of them one by one.
Although it was not easy, thanks to my sales training, experience, and persistence, I was successful in this job, and often exceeded my ‘sales’ job placement targets. So, I eventually started my own business teaching sales skills to employment consultants.
In the past 9 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to train over 3k Disability Employment Practitioners, in about 73 Disability Employment Service providers across Australia. And very soon we will be expanding to the UK.
I teach Employment consultants how to do business development and make cold calls to small and large organisations. But more importantly, we focus on something called ‘Job Carving.’ This includes how to create job positions that did not exist or restructuring an existing job to fit the employer’s gaps, and the job seekers’ skills and abilities. Then approaching the employer with a compelling proposition. You have to have good research, analytical and sales skills to pull this off well.
You may be surprised to know that even in this day and age, many employers are still discriminating against people with disabilities. Sometimes this is even unconscious biases. Many times, people with disabilities, specifically more visible ones, are locked out of the labour market, rejected and discriminated against.
Despite some large organisations having diversity and inclusion managers, and policies in place, many times they may have never even considered that disability is a part of that conversation.
And other times employers expect a job seeker with a disability to be paid less, or do less skilled work than their counterparts.
Some of the objections employers give the employment consultants are shocking. Often, the employment consultant must go as far as hiding the fact that they are calling from a disability employment provider because of the objections they receive on the front end.
“If they are blind, how can they see the screen? I want someone to hit the floor running.” This was said by a CFO of a large financial services firm.
“I’m sorry, but if he’s disabled then he should be on NDIS, not in the workforce.” This is what a small business owner once told a DES consultant on a cold call. I mean it’s not surprising, as this business was based in a regional town where some people were a little behind. But hearing that made the EC cry. DES Employment Consultants often take complaints or criticisms against their clients to heart. Because they are often heavily invested in the job seeker’s journey to success. I always tell them, that we must come from a place of understanding, and our job is to advocate and educate. Some people’s hearts and biases can turn around. I’ve seen it many times.
I once had an owner of a local coffee shop tell me how my job seeker was the best worker he had ever had. “In fact, the smile on his face makes customers come back just to talk with him.” He said. Now, this guy did not start out open. At the time he said it was a huge risk to hire someone with an intellectual disability.
Many times, employers are not that obvious in their words. Because they know it’s not socially acceptable to say such harsh things. But you can tell by how their tone suddenly changes, or how they brush you off.
Now I get it. If you have a small business, or maybe your job is on the line for making the wrong hiring choice, then you might be a little more cautious. No one is asking hiring managers and businesses to give just anyone a go. But to perhaps open their minds to at least having a conversation and seeing the individual for what they can bring to the table.
Now DES Employment Consultants must be careful not to let the harsh words of the employer on the other line affect their morale. Because many do start out this job highly positive and enthusiastic, but if they are not careful, they might start to believe and internalise these objections. But worse, stop believing in their purpose and mission. That is to make a huge impact in someone’s life.
As Steven Pitkin who was the General manager of a DES Provider ON-Q employment once told me. “I believe it is more than a social responsibility, it is a basic human right that all people with a disability should be given an opportunity for open employment.” I never forgot his words, because they were profound.
Imagine this, you have a long successful career as an accountant, and suddenly you are diagnosed with glaucoma and will eventually go blind.
Or perhaps you had a severe car accident, are now in a wheelchair and can no longer do the construction job you have had for 15 years. The only job you knew.
Or maybe, you were a childcare worker, and a sudden MS diagnosis left you bedridden.
Or maybe you are born with a developmental disability such as intellectual, autism, down syndrome, or cerebral palsy, and most people don’t give you the time of day.
Or maybe you lost a child and began to suffer severe depression and anxiety. So you lost your successful business as a result.
These are the types of job seekers, that employment providers and their staff advocate on behalf of daily.
After recovering and becoming job ready again, some of these people often find that they have been left behind in the labour market. Many of them understand the reality. They know that they probably can’t always do the job they did previously in the same capacity. Sometimes they have to change careers altogether. Other times, they seek out part-time employment, with a few minor accommodations. Or apply for jobs that match their specific passions, personality, abilities, and skills. And of course, there are many others living with a disability, who have no issues and be able to manage full-time highly competitive employment without ever disclosing their disability.
Here are some facts: About 1 in 5 people in Australia have some form of disability. That’s about 4.4 people as reported last on the Australian Network on Disability website. Hiring someone with a disability is good for business, team, productivity and the economy. Research shows that people with disabilities take fewer sick days, stay in the company longer and have better resilience and problem-solving skills.
Hiring someone with a disability is also better for the bottom line. According to a survey by the University of Massachusetts, 92% of the American public view companies that hire people with disabilities more favourably than those that do not. 87% of the public also agree that they would prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with disabilities.
How do I end this article? If you have lasted this long. I appreciate your consideration and attention. To be honest this article started out as a simple 150-word LinkedIn post. But I guess there was so much on my heart about this topic. I hope who ever is reading this, and has hiring powers, may consider (if not already) disability as a part of the hiring conversation. Or perhaps even create some internal programs and initiatives to make the vocational hope and dream come true of someone with a disability.
Below is a list of some fantastic DES providers in Australia (Not in order of Importance) who I have worked with. Reach out to them if you would like to start the dialogue about how you can hire someone with a disability. If your DES provider is not listed below, be sure to put it in the comments with a link to the website.
Come join our Business Development for Employment Practitioners Workshop to learn how you can gain access to hard-to-reach recruiters and hiring managers.
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