AUTHOR: Samantha Prior
As a PWD, and before I began working within the sector, I often wondered what the benefits of events like these were. Last week I had the opportunity to really delve deep into one of these events when my colleague and I attended One Community’s Australian Disability Service Conference and Awards on the Gold Coast, and what an experience it was.
The conference itself was split into two parts the day program which featured keynote speakers; this year we were privileged to hear from Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM who is the first quadriplegic medical intern in Queensland as well as being a lawyer and researcher. In addition to this incredible speaker attendees were treated to information and discussion sessions, and networking opportunities with other providers. The evening saw a change of pace; providers and representatives from the NDIS and government donned their bow ties and ball gowns to celebrate the achievements, innovations, and excellence within the disability sector across many areas including assistive technology, service delivery and projects that benefit participants at a fabulous awards ceremony. This year’s conference was heavily focussed on employment opportunities for PWD, whilst looking at the myriad ways we as providers can do more to create space for PWD in the workforce. We were also challenged to examine why this has been such a struggle within our society for so long.
Attendees were treated to a rousing Welcome to Country by local Elder Uncle Allan and our MC for the day’s events was the incredibly driven and accomplished Karni Liddell – mother, Paralympian, and Social Worker extraordinaire. Hearing Karni speak about her own struggles to find mainstream employment despite her incredible success as a Paralympian reinforced my own feelings on this topic. Statistics that show fewer than half of the working age PWD in Australia are employed should be alarming to all of us whether we have a disability or not. When we look at the fact that there are approximately 2.1million people in Australia who identify as having a disability, and a significant number of those who are actively seeking work but are simply being overlooked. The scales are so unbalanced, and it is to the detriment of PWD.
In Australia we come together as a nation every four years, to champion the phenomenal efforts of our Paralympians, who compete in the toughest sports arena on the planet. But once all the applause dies down, we fall short in making space in our workplaces for PWD? As a PWD seeing this topic openly discussed throughout the day and hearing the perspectives of people like Karni and Dr Palipana, who like me, struggled with acceptance in the workforce as a PWD despite each of them being extremely capable and qualified was gobsmacking to me. Karni and Dr Palipana are exceptionally well spoken, driven, and capable people, and yet, they have had to fight to be accepted in mainstream work environments. This knowledge coupled with a session exploring our implicit bias as a society, as providers, and even as PWD toward other PWD allowed us all the space to strategize how to address this topic immediately, as well as how to implement these into our workplaces and the community at large. By having these conversations, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, we as industry will soon learn where our missteps are then we can actively start acknowledging and devising better ways of operating into the future.
The evening’s festivities brought all of us together to acknowledge the innovation of providers and the services they are delivering. From congratulating those who have developed assistive technologies that are not only bettering the lives of PWD but providing an opportunity to see what new innovations are out there so we can better help those we support and engage with. Celebrating these successes pushes all of us in the industry to do more, to try more and to give more to Housing For People With Disabilities Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and in whole Australia because that is why we exist. Our goal is to give PWD the best opportunity to live their best lives through accessible homes, assistive technologies, and opportunities to contribute to the workforce and as we headed into the evening it was incredible to see the announcement of a new website developed by Dylan Alcott OAM called the Field.jobs which has been built by PWD for PWD to connect them with inclusive employers. As a PWD seeing something like finally being available is so encouraging. Finally, we are not just being given lip service that the Government cares about our wants and is there for us. Seeing the Prime Minister and Minister for the NDIS throwing their support behind this and demonstrating that this is the benchmark workplaces should be aiming for, that having PWD in your workplace should be the norm, not the exception. There are plenty of us who want to work out there and now we know exactly who to go to first.
Overall I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to attend ADSCA 2022. I learned so much about this incredible industry I am lucky to work in. I learned more about my own implicit biases and how to tackle these head on at work and in my everyday life. And I was able to celebrate providers who continue to work tirelessly to innovate positive change and better services for PWD and those who support them. Celebrating the successes gives us all the push we need to keep trying to do better and offer the best services we can.