AUTHOR: Samantha Prior
When I was fifteen, I decided it was high time I got my first job. For most young Australian teenagers, that first job is a rite of passage, a ticket to financial liberty. Now, I knew, because of my disability working in fast food wouldn’t be appropriate or safe so I decided retail would be the ideal place to get my start. What I didn’t factor in, however, was that I would have to convince people that despite my disability I was still more than capable of working. Unlike most young people who only have to overcome their lack of experience in a job application and interview, I also had to demonstrate that I was well-versed in knowing how to adjust to the environments so I could do the work required
At that time in the early 2000’s it didn’t occur to me that a workplace would or should even consider making accommodations so that my disability was seen as no big deal. That they could have safe step stools so I could reach the shelves and service counters, a disabled toilet for staff to use, an accessible staffroom, or any number of other accommodations that might make the work environment more functional for someone with a disability. It didn’t occur to me largely because I didn’t see all that many people with visible disabilities in the workforce.
Thankfully, in 2023, we are living in a world where disabilities – both visible and invisible – are being pushed into the spotlight. Wheelchair users are no longer being referred to as “wheelchair-bound”. People on the spectrum are becoming more widely understood and vastly more visible through prominent positions both in the entertainment industry and the corporate world. From these changes employers and industry are starting to grow wiser, they’re starting to make changes in the office by ensuring staff have access to occupational therapy assessments for the workplace, diversity and wellbeing training and the like. From these additions, they are implementing changes that include assistive technologies to allow their employees to work in a safe, accessible environment.
These assistive technologies, much like the assistive technology you find in accessible homes, enable PWD to engage in employment opportunities outside the home. Opportunities for PWD to venture out into the workforce where their needs are being supported instead of PWD either not being considered employable or being forced into the narrow employment market that offers work from home (WFH) should not be the norm, not in 2023. During the Covid-19 pandemic, WFH became this amazing “new” idea where it seems employers suddenly realised there was a whole untapped market of employable people out there that they could use – the highly capable disabled community. Now as we begin to return to our new normal, this community desperately wants to remain employed and to continue working as we begin returning to the office. Employers must acknowledge workplaces need to be accessible and for many, this will mean changes must be made. They can begin doing this by calling in an occupational therapist to conduct workplace assessments not just for the staff who identify as having a disability, but for all staff. Starting with small changes like installing intercom systems, automating doors, and converting to sit-to-stand desks is a great first step. Sit-to-stand desks for example allow staff the opportunity to stand and stretch – reducing the risk of workplace-induced back and neck complaints. Sit-to-stand desks also enable wheelchair users the opportunity to adjust their desks to an appropriate height to allow their wheelchair to fit properly. Workplaces can also incorporate modified lighting designs which can be tailored to ensure those with sensory issues are able to comfortably work and reduce the likelihood of sensory overload. Accessible bathrooms and kitchen areas can be created so that wheelchair users and others with a disability are able to safely and confidently use the facilities. Shockingly the most overlooked issue I have found in workplaces are the entryway doorways and office layout. If a wheelchair user needs to open a door, which direction does it open? Is it wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through? Is the door itself heavy? And most importantly if we are in a tall building what provisions are there for people with mobility, hearing, and vision impairments to safely exit the building in an emergency? The best tip I can give for those wanting to create an accessible and inclusive work environment is simple – don’t just make a few changes and assume it works. Just like we have children road test new toys, workplaces need to have people with lived experience (ie PWD) come through and test the changes out and if areas are highlighted as problematic make changes.
When it comes to creating accessible and inclusive workplaces, there is still much work to be done. But by implementing small changes and seeking input from PWD, employers can make significant progress in creating safe and functional work environments for everyone.
Investing in rooming or share housing in Melbourne can also be a way to provide safe and accessible housing for PWD. Rooming houses, which typically offer single rooms and shared communal areas, can provide affordable and accessible housing options for individuals with disabilities. By investing in these types of properties, investors can not only provide a valuable service to the community but can also see a return on their investment.
When considering rooming or share housing investing in Melbourne, it’s important to understand the regulations and requirements for these types of properties. Rooming houses in Victoria, for example, are subject to specific regulations around safety and maintenance. Investors should also consider the needs of potential tenants with disabilities and ensure that the property is designed and maintained to be accessible for everyone.
In addition to providing accessible housing options, investing in rooming or share housing in Melbourne can also have broader social benefits. By offering affordable housing options, investors can help to reduce homelessness and improve the overall well-being of individuals in the community.
In conclusion, creating accessible and inclusive work and housing environments for PWD is essential for promoting equality and social inclusion. By taking small steps and seeking input from PWD, employers and investors can make a significant impact in improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Top 5 Employment Services for PWD:
1. Epic Assist: www.epicassist.org
2. Jigsaw: www.jigsawaustralia.com.au
3. TheField.jobs: www.thefield.jobs
4. Hotel Etico: www.hoteletico.com.au
5. Help Disability Care: www.helpdisabilitycare.com.au