Youngcare is an organisation helping to give young people with high care needs the choices they deserve as they navigate life with disabilities.
Youngcare Connect Manager Shane Jamieson shares what it’s like to be a young person living with a disability and trying to find work.
Close your eyes for a moment, and put yourself in their shoes.
You arrive at a job interview. You’re slightly late because the building is a bit older, and the three stairs that able-bodied people bound up with ease are a nightmare for someone who relies on a wheelchair to get around.
After an admin person helps you find and use the portable ramp sitting in a storeroom somewhere, you arrive at your interview slightly flustered and fairly self-conscious as half the office personnel watched you wheeling through the corridors clearly not built wide enough for a wheelchair and people to pass each other at the same time.
And all this is before the talking even begins.
Almost 20% of Australians have a disability, and while things have changed in recent years it’s crucial workplaces have the tools to be more inclusive and accessible.
“There are Infrastructure issues across the country,” says Jamieson.
While Youngcare has an incredible history of helping young people stay out of places like nursing homes that are the domain of the elderly, Jamieson says it’s equally important we turn our attention to the workplace as well.
“Our workplaces are getting much better and more focused on genuine integration but a person with a disability will still likely feel that workspaces, entrances to the buildings, and moving around the office have never really been designed for their needs,” he says.
Breaking the barriers for young workers with a disability
Jamieson says many people have felt that they can’t enter the workforce, particularly for jobs that they’ve always dreamt of doing, because they feel the work environment doesn’t fully cater to their needs.
“There is still a prejudice that exists within the community and many still find they are treated differently because of their disability.
“Society is slowly adapting with the help of accessibility legislation, more public awareness
that is positively impacting on wider perceptions in regards to people with disabilities,” Jamieson says.
To meet their needs, Jamieson says a business should audit themselves by asking someone with a disability to test out the office area, “instead of doing what you think may work for them”.
“The best audits are inviting people with a disability into the workplace to test out what you think might be integrated and accessible,” he says.
“Often hotels and cafes will bring someone in with a disability to test the tables, the toilets, accessibility to get to the bar or counter and to go from the elevator to the stairs.
“A workplace can have someone test what it’s like to go from the desk to the elevator, or to the stairs and to use the meeting and common areas.
“The best tool around is letting people test it.”
Being flexible is vital for businesses
While accessibility is helpful in the office, flexible working arrangements are also beneficial to both the individual and organisation alike.
“Flexible working arrangements are absolutely vital, along with ensuring that the workplace is geared toward a person’s physical and intellectual needs,” Jamieson says.
That might mean automating kitchen or workspace areas, or ensuring that the wifi talks to the communication system that someone with high complex needs is utilising from their wheelchair.
“We need to understand what the rhythm of the day will be so we can ensure that the person gets the care they require is still at the highest level and means that they don’t feel compromised in anything that they do,” he says.
The changing landscape of remote work has also offered people with a disability opportunities where traditional nine to five office jobs have become a thing of the past for many.
“COVID-19 has taught us, now more than ever, that flexible working arrangements don’t need to interrupt the efficiency of a person to hit their KPIs,” he says.
This is an extraordinary time for people with disabilities because it shows that they can work from anywhere and be as efficient as anyone else.
“We have so many [disabled] people that we know even running their own businesses from home, and in some cases they’re more productive because they’re already geared with all of their equipment,” Jamieson says.
But he does acknowledge that the most well-intentioned organisations can make a person with a disability feel marginalised unintentionally.
“The disability community just wants to integrate. They are just like you and I. We just want to consider their needs too,” he says.
How Brisbane Business Hub has helped Youngcare
The Brisbane Business Hub has been a valuable resource for Youngcare to share knowledge while building strong relationships within the business community.
“The Brisbane Business Hub has presented Youngcare with an opportunity to give back. We believe in what the Business Hub is doing for small and medium businesses, especially coming out of COVID and those complexities,” Jamieson says.
“We have been able to flourish through COVID and diversify our revenue and work. We wanted to share what we had learnt with other small to midsize businesses the strategies we have used to grow and achieve our mission.
“The Brisbane Business Hub has given us a forum to meet other groups and businesses to share our experiences and have access to other innovative ideas that help us become the business we want to become.”