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“It’s not about tearing down buildings, it’s about tearing down mindsets.” Our guests debunk the statement that people with disability don’t make good employees.

Jo Lynam, Karene Gravener and Erica Hahn join Pete to share their wisdom, ideas and experiences caring for, living with and employing people with disability in a robust discussion around the value of people with disability as employees.

Podcast Duration: 43 minutes

Podcast Release Date: December 3, 2021

Produced by: Black Me Out Productions

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Additional information

Feros Care Employment Resources

  • Your Disability Your Way – A guide that contains tools to
    assist you in sharing information about your disability, identifying your goals and the supports available to help you achieve employment, volunteer work or study.
  • Step 2 Education and Employment – A guide to assist
    families and their school leavers to better understand pathways to employment.
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Grow Bold with Disability Q&A Series: Debunking the statement that people with disability don’t make good employees with Jo Lynam, Karene Gravener and Erica Hahn

Pete: Hello and welcome to a very special edition of the Grow Bold with disability podcast brought to you by Feros Care. I’m your host journalist Pete Timbs and in this episode, we have put together a panel of experts in the field of disability and employment to help us try to debunk the statement that people with disability don’t make good employees. Joining me today is Jo Lynam. Jo’s daughter Emma lives with Down Syndrome and in 2015 started her own business Master shredder, disposing of confidential documents for local businesses. She began with one client and now has more than 30 customers. My second guest is Karene Gravener. Karene lives with cerebral palsy and has worked for a lot of different places and has had to overcome many struggles ranging from physical barriers to bullying and lack of inclusion. And my third guest is Erica Hahn. She’s the owner of Coffee Club in Mackay, where she employs people with disabilities and is a strong advocate for people with disability in the workplace. Ladies welcome.

Karene/Jo: Thank you,

Pete: Karene, Let’s start with you. As I mentioned in the intro, you’ve had a few jobs in your career. You’ve come up against quite a bit of adversity. Now, what are some of the obstacles that you had to face when let’s start with just applying for jobs? How has that been?

Karene: Okay? So, obviously, generally, job application is a long process. Um, it can be anything from writing key selection criteria to supplying evidence of your ability and your experience, and often simply that alone. Writing your submission to an employment agency or a place of employment, it takes time, It’s arduous, It’s draining and something as simple as technology that is not workable for you can stop you from doing your best possible work, I guess. And therefore, you know, it’s about having equipment and technology that supports you to do that job properly or support from other individuals, like support workers to help you do that process.

Pete: Have you found when employers when they found out about your disability have just sort of walked away?

Karene: No one has actually walked away or showed open prejudice. It’s more that when I’ve been in the environment, I’ve noticed that although there is policy and procedure that says that you are welcome here and although there are terms of reference that indicate there’s inclusion and support. My experience clearly tells me that it’s pure rhetoric, and there’s not a lot of on the ground experience of what it actually means to include and support and encourage the contribution of people with disabilities.

Pete: Yeah because the employer’s version of inclusion in inverted commas is a lot different to what it actually means, isn’t it? What have you found?

Karene: I have found that inclusion can very often mean, for example, a ramp to drive up or a door that opens automatically. And yes, they are important. They are significant in the physical access domain of employment. However, it’s so much more than that. It’s about looking at the skills and capacities of a person with a disability and saying, how can we look at what you’ve got and incorporate that into our frame of reference, our job space because you’ve got what it takes. But it might look a little bit different than what we’re used to. You’ve got it all inside, but we have to change the way we see how you do things, and I have experienced bullying and intimidation purely because I could not keep up with demands of the able bodied world, but it was still inside of me. I could still do the job well, Does that make sense what I’m saying?

Pete: Yeah because people just employers think I’ll put a ramp in and make the doors open and they’re done. Their job’s done now, but they’re not. Actually, that’s just the physical side of it. There’s a mental side of it as well.

Karene: There’s a mental, there’s a psychological, there’s a spiritual, there’s so much stuff and I have been on both ends where, for example, I remember a job as a senior chaplain through John Flynn College, and my boss at the time was so encouraging, and he could not do enough to highlight my skills and support me in growing those skills. And I just thrived there. I loved that job, and I learnt for myself, You’ve got this girl. It’s just that the world that you live in doesn’t celebrate you, and that’s not okay.

Pete: Now Joe, your daughter Emma. She lives with Down syndrome. Start their own business back in 2015. Tell us, how did that come about?

Jo: It came about when Emma finished school because I had the same expectations of Emma as her two brothers. Get a job that’s important. And for all young people, regardless of ability or disability, working is a vital thing for all young people. It connects them to the community. No one has a good life in their bedroom. That’s not where a good life is. A good life is in the community, contributing, belonging, being valued for who you are as you are. So we tried the usual route down DESs providers, and I was flatly told, Look, Mrs Lanham, it’s not going to be possible for your daughter to work. You need to accept that. Why don’t you just find a day service for her?

Pete: And that was straight out of school.

Jo: Yeah, And so I’m not going to say on air what my comment to that was.

Pete: Feel free. Feel like you need to get it out.

Jo: So we tried two DES providers and got the same kind of response like that’s admirable, but it’s not going to happen. And I then looked at things in another way and was question, well, what’s really valuable? What do we want here? Autonomy, autonomy is incredibly powerful for all people, and I keep wording, things that way. All people, because it’s really important to not differentiate, you know, based on colour, religion, gender or ability. For goodness sake, it’s 2021. There are so many statistics in Australia that show employers who take on a person with a disability. That improves the workplace exponentially. Their retention rates are something like 78%. Is that not a good thing? I remember when Emma first started working at a fairly large financial institution, one of the things that I heard over and over and over, because in the early days we didn’t have any funding. So I was the lacky pushing around 100 kg shredder and trying to get into the back of a ute with a wind up loader and a lot of colourful language to get it in the back of the Ute. But what I heard over and over again was from individuals in that business would just come up to me quietly where I’d be sitting reading and they’d say how good they felt every Wednesday to see her come. That they felt good working for an organisation that was giving Emma an opportunity. They felt proud of that. That had a huge impact on morale, and that does that across any sector where someone is given an opportunity. Everyone is here for a reason, and everyone is here to serve the community. And what better way to do that through work? So for me, having her own business gave her autonomy, She’s in charge. She’s the boss. She gets to determine where who, when and how she works. That’s not something that most intellectual people will ever have in their life.

Pete: So how is her work ethic?

Jo: Mate, What can I tell you? Well, I’ll give you an example. The same financial institution, Queensland Country Bank. When Emma first started there, the CEO and the HR manager were very supportive, very enthusiastic. They did not ask me one question that was focused on risk or any of that. It was, How can we do better? What have we got to get on board? And she’s been working there a few weeks, and, the CEO was away. And so Emma was there one Wednesday and the CEO was in her office and thought, I’ll pop around and say hello to Emma and she was very promptly told “you get going, I’m working”. And so the CEO said to the HR manager, “could we please get a lot more people like that?” You know, there’s incredible benefit that she’s there just shredding. She’s not checking Facebook every five minutes. She’s not having a fag every five seconds. She’s not doing any of that. She is 100% focused on the job, and that’s really important.

Pete: Now Erica, you’ve been a big advocate for employing people with disabilities. Why is that? Where’s that passion come from?

Erica: I’m not sure where the passion comes from. Actually, I just believe that everybody deserves a chance. And my very first employee, Georgia is just unbelievable. She just fits in so well and just to see her joy from it, I guess that’s why.

Pete: And what’s her disability?

Erica: She has down syndrome.

Pete: And how long ago did you employ Georgia?

Erica: Just going on two years ago.

Pete: And was there any apprehension when she came in and apply for the job? Did you ask her to come and apply? How did that work?

Erica: She actually approached me. One of her dreams was to work at a coffee club and couldn’t get much more. Well, she was so excited, so it was lovely.

Pete: And what does she do for you guys?

Erica: Well, she started off with us because we weren’t sure of what she wanted to do as well. So we had her in the bar. And what should do is do all our cutlery for us. Polish our glasses. Um, but now she is in the bar. She helps make all the cold drink, she clears table, she even takes the odd order here and there.

Pete: Beautiful, and how many hours a week is she doing?

Erica: Georgia does eight with us. She is a very busy girl. She does quite a few other activities.

Pete: What else does she get up to?

Erica: She does swimming. She does dancing. She does absolutely everything.

Pete: Fantastic. Now, what makes people with disabilities good employees? I mean, that’s what we’re trying to debunk here. People think that it doesn’t work, but what makes them so good.

Erica: Do you know what? Because Georgia actually wants to work here. She will outshine a lot of staff members that I see come through these doors. She is here on time every single day. She’s happy to be here just as much as we’re having for her to be.

Pete: Well Karene with 48% people of working age, so thats 15 to 64, with a disability. There’s only 48% with a disability that are employed with 80% of people without a disability are employed in the same category. Why do you think that is?

Karene: That is a very good question. It goes back to what I said before. I think that work environments don’t take the time because inclusion can be very surface. But true inclusion is looking and thinking, How do we include in a physical, like capacity building in a needs basis on a capacity and strength model? I honestly think that because it’s the other way around and people with disabilities come into work places where they have to meet productivity standards that are way beyond what they can do, or like physical barriers that stop them from doing a job effectively. And then it becomes what I believe to be an emotional barrier in terms of the person with the disability, because if they have been, if they feel down that they can’t do their job properly if they’re being called into offices and told after the three months of probation, Sorry, you’re not meeting our expectations, What does that do to a person’s mind? It says to them, It’s you who is not doing the job properly. Whereas, I’m even thinking of myself and most of my friends while I’m giving myself a hard time, they will say, did you actually stop and think that you were not given the proper equipment or the proper space or the proper support to do the job that you do so well? And it was only after several conversations like that I realised how many more people with disabilities go on this journey of having so much passion, enthusiasm, willingness and drive only to have that squashed to the point where they are so intimidated to face the able bodied world. They retreat and they withdraw.

Pete: Do you think the employers put it into the too hard basket sometimes and they go, You know, all we’ve got to do is put in a little bit of effort, and we get this reward of having these great people work for us. But they just go look, it’s too hard.

Karene: I think. I want to think carefully about that response because it is partially that. It’s like I don’t know where to start, so we won’t start. But also, I believe it’s through a lack of awareness of what living with a disability actually is and how, like you said Jo, we are all individuals with capacity, with influence with drive. But if you’re not exposed to all difference as an employer, you don’t see what you don’t know. You don’t know what you don’t see. If that makes sense?

Jo: Yeah, if I could just jump in there if we look also at the history of disability, tells us a great deal about where we have arrived right now. Historically, people with disability were segregated. They were placed away. Now here in Australia, there are some horrendous examples historically of things that were done to people. And I personally have met people who were institutionalised and had every kind of abuse meted out to them. Now somehow they’ve managed to forgive that. So if you think about that from the fact that this is a group of people who for a whole generation have grown up not seeing. They’ve grown up with the model of the best we can do is offer them charity. So people with disability were seen as the recipient of charity. They were not seen as productive, as being included and thought of as valuable. Now that’s really telling, in a lot of things in our culture of how people subtly devalue them. And I’ll give you an example. When Linda Reynolds went from the minister for defence to the minister for the NDIS. In media that was reported as the minister has been demoted. Now that’s a really telling thing of the awareness or lack of awareness that the media have about the value of people with disability that they would see that going from defence, Why is that so honourable? To working and helping people create good lives? That’s a step down for her, Were in fact, that could be a masterful role for her to be the catalyst to change not one, but many people’s lives. So that goes on ripples on through our society, where when you come up against employers, it is often not that they don’t want to give someone an opportunity. It’s that they don’t know how they are afraid to get it wrong. They are afraid of the risks. They automatically assume that with people with disability Oh, there must be lots of risks. So I often turn that question around. Go great. Let’s discuss them. What are they? What are those risks? And they can’t actually tell you any. We’ve got insurance. It’s covered. What else? What else have you got?

Pete: You mentioned there that it was generational. Do you think that’s shifting?

Jo: I believe that if we can hang on to the NDIS in its original intention, which was asset based. Yeah? To look at people’s strengths, let’s work to their strength, come to us with your vision and will apply reasonable and necessary to that vision. If we can hold on to that, I think it takes a generation to see real social change. We’re talking about evolution, not revolution, but evolution. Revolutions, people get hurt, they rise up, people get left behind, people get damaged. Eventually, stuff just goes back where it was. But in evolution, we’re talking about raising the level of consciousness of the whole community. So there are children being born right now, like Emma with Down syndrome. Their life projection is vastly different because right from the get go, there is a community that’s got a little more understanding, and hopefully by the time those little babies are Emma’s age, the community has a huge awareness of the value of supporting people with disability because, let’s be honest in this community alone that support if you don’t care about anything but dollars and cents, that’s 140 million in the Townsville region. I reckon that’s pretty valuable.

Karene: If I may say so quickly, because I found it really powerful that you said about history and often I write stuff down I to get it out of my head and from my heart I write stuff down and I wrote this. There are historical facts and concepts of disability and the place of people with disabilities that make society at large, anxious and fretful about what it means to employ someone with disability. The reason why people with disabilities are perceived as not being equipped or able to do a job or as capable in doing a job has nothing to do with ability or inability and everything to do with reshaping and revisiting what it truly means to include a person with a disability in a working environment.

Pete: Nice. So true, actually. What changes? Well, Emma has obviously been doing this amazing business. One client in 2015 to 30 clients now. What changes have you seen in her since she started her own business?

Jo: You’ve not got enough time for this podcast to cover all of that. We’re talking about a young girl who she started shredding at home in the downstairs room, just for us and our immediate family and neighbours. So they would all bring their stuff over and she’d shred it in the downstairs room. So when I presented to her the concept of taking this outside of home into workspaces, she was very anxious and frightened about that. So you take that young, frightened, anxious girl who started in her very first business and we practised at home, you know, saying hello. And she walked in that very first morning and she did what I said. She walked in, eyes straight ahead, the receptionist is on the right. She signed to the right never once looking at anyone. Take that to a comment made to me recently by the owner of that business who commented that now she walks in as confident anything as if she owns the place and gives orders and tells people what to do. The confidence that work gave her is just like my two sons that don’t have disability. They sat it out all awkward and uncomfortable and not sure. One now manages the business, the other has his own. Capacity building for people with disability is just like any young person. It takes time to grow into that. And so for her, that’s confidence has meant that she moved out and rented in 2017 for a year. In 2018, she moved into her own property, where she now lives and pays that property off. She has gone from using, when she first moved out, we had to throw a lot of hours at that support. Her capacity has grown so much that just recently, as in this year, she decided that she did not want formal support at home of the night time. So she was the one that told the support worker to get going. This is my home. You go. So the support worker rang me. Um What do I do? And I’m ever so calm on the outside going Oh, that’s OK, she’ll be fine. Underneath I’m thinking, Oh my God. And she is absolutely fine. So she doesn’t have any more support until the morning. Obviously she has support in the business. But the really the thing I am most proud of in all of that, is that I have always said that a good support worker who really knows what they’re doing is actually working to work themselves out of a job. So I keep saying that. And I’m so proud of the fact that the young girl that did two hours of the morning and two hours of an evening then was left with only two hours. No one can live on two hours. So did she not have a job? No. She then went into another area of community development with more hours and a different role. So I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do that. And that’s really important to understand that all of us could grow. None of us is set at a finite point. You know, the person I was at 16, She’s long gone in the mirror. Yeah, she’s long gone in the rear view mirror. I don’t know her. And likewise for Emma, that young girl that finished school is history, she’s gone. Instead, there’s a young 27 confident business owner who, on occasions despite having very little speech, is able to make presentations using technology.

Pete: And a homeowner.

Jo: Yeah, yes.

Pete: Well, I don’t know what I was doing at 27 but it wasn’t owing a home.

Jo: I will say it’s pretty tough for any tradesman coming to Emma’s home, and we had a few because we put a bit of a renovation on the property. And all of those tradies were like they’re working really hard because she was making a damn clear, Get out of my house! Get out of my house.

Pete: Quick, hurry up, get the job done, get out of here. Erica, What has surprised you most about people with disabilities as employees?

Erica: I don’t know what surprised me the most. I was asking this question to a couple of other team members the other day just to get their feedback, and one of the girls said that, you know, just with an extra bit of training, she has become one of the best employees. But however I think about it, she didn’t really need too much extra training She’s got her duty. She’s shown, with the great support, she’s always knows whether to ask, I’m really surprised how well she picked it up and how efficient she can be.

Pete: Do you think that might be something that employers have an issue with? They have such low expectations of people with disability.

Erica: I guess so, it would be a shot. Yeah, I guess so. I can’t answer for other people. But I guess maybe.

Pete: Then how have the other employees, taken on with their work mate? Who has got a disability?

Erica: Yeah, absolutely. She’s part of our team. And it was from the very start, everyone took to her absolute beautifully.

Pete: And do they socialise outside? Or she seems like she’s pretty busy though.

Erica: She is, she is very busy. We actually went to one of her shows, one of her concerts. So that was nice is to do as a team as well.

Pete: Fantastic. And what about the customers? Have they been?

Erica: Amazing. And you know, going back to your other question actually, that’s probably surprised me the most. The amount of feedback I get from our customers saying that she’s doing such a wonderful job and it’s glad to see how happy she is and part of our team. So, yeah, that is getting a lot of feedback.

Pete: Have you been approached by anyone else with disabilities looking for a job as yet?

Erica: I have. We’re looking at another gentleman. He’s possibly going to come in for a trial, and in the next few weeks, he’s actually interested in the back of house. So, yeah, have to let you know how that one goes.

Pete: Jo mentioned that when Emma, her daughter, it brings a bit of kudos to the companies that she’s working with because the customers see you as an equal opportunity employer. Do you get that vibe as well?

Erica: Yes I totally agree.

Pete: Jo what about for customers? So we’ve got we’ve got a base of 30 odd customers now. Has there been any pushback from any customers along the way?

Jo: No, No there has not. That’s one of the things that I really love about it. We started out this journey with one client. That client opened the door for another client. That client opened the door for another client, and they are all incredibly proud of Emma and are part of the journey with her. So they are on this journey with her, watching her grow, watching her, improving confidence, watching things that to you and I might not seem like much. But, for example, where Emma will organise it all of it herself and staff member comes back and it’s all done, the shredders packed up everything is packed, she’s sitting there waiting. Just more and more capable. That’s been a lovely journey to have all of those lovely people come on with us.

Pete: Yeah, Nice. Now Karene, I have been looking at some stats, cause I love a bit of stats. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Stats from end of last year, October 2020. Show people of working age, 15 to 64 with a disability, only 18.4% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 32.8 for individuals without disability. How important is education in the employment sector for people with disabilities?

Karene: Oh my Goodness, I remember my mum saying to me. I knew my mom would come into this somewhere. She said to me, Karene, I know that you don’t see what you want to do right now, but I know that with a degree qualification, you have so much more chance and opportunity to knock down what is already going to be some huge hurdles. So I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I see that a degree for you will open so many doors. Because to be honest, when I was first out of school and thinking about you know, what do I want to do? I was like, Well, I can’t really work in a food chain store. I can guarantee they won’t be accessible. I can’t work in like a clothing industry because obviously physically, that might be impossible. But I can use my voice. And so that’s what started my journey of going to university and studying social work, and it really is the best decision I ever made. Going to university, opened my world no end and showed me that I could live independently, I could study, I could do really well at it, and I could come out the other side.

Jo: If I can just step in there just like any other young person, go to university, and the door opens, their mind is completely open. And why should that be any different? Why should we, as a culture, think that people with disability will not be able to do that and will not benefit and give back? And that’s what, it’s that understanding of being able to give back.

Karene: I have to share at this point, though, that you know, although in my mind from the age of 0 to 6, I never saw that I had a disability. It wasn’t until I went to school and I saw that I was different, and I was like, what’s the problem with everyone out there? You know, they’re the ones who are different, and I sort of learned the hard way that I had a tough hill to climb. And although I agree with you, Joe, that it should be everyone’s chance and opportunity, I found that, my goodness, actually getting to university and practically outliving the journey of independent living and study was one of the hardest journeys I’ve ever done, simply because this is no word of a lie, for all of the college campuses at James Cook University, there was one accessible room in one college. And I was like, Oh, this is fantastic. And boy, what a journey I mean, there were moments when I didn’t think I was going to make it. And Mom said there were times when she just wanted to wrap me up and say, come home because in her heart she’s like, what have I done? But she knew that I had to, like, do this, to stand a chance to compete in the working world.

Pete: And that would have put a lot of people off. A lot of people would have turned around and gone home.

Karene: But I was like nope. Simply because it’s hard, I’m going to prove to them I will make it.

Pete: So how do we? So those stat’s, are pretty shocking. How do we improve those stats?

Jo: I think that we improve them with what we’re doing. Yeah, Karene’s voice, having Karene share that story, that shows you that at the point that university being constructed and thought of and envisioned, nobody thought to, how will this be accessible to someone in a wheelchair? So we still had that historical model of there’s a place for people like that, and it’s surely not here. So I think we overcome it by just exactly what we’re doing. Talking, sharing what is possible.

Karene: And opening minds of people who honestly may not have thought that they were thinking wrong.

Pete: Where do you stand on kids, being in especially going through high school and stuff, going to an inverted commas, the normal school and having access to the same classes and not being, sort of be not made examples of, but just standing out a little bit more where they go, they go to a different class or they go to a different area.

Jo: Yeah…

Pete: We really need to normalise it more where they’re in the same classes with everyone.

Karene: Well, interesting, here’s another history story. I come from the very small town of Aye , and my mum wanted me to go to the public school. And the PNC at the time said, Oh, no, we can’t do that, we have nothing available or and we can’t manage a child with a disability. And Mum, in no uncertain terms, said, well you’re just going to have to figure that out because she’s coming. And I have to say I’m not young and my experience was quite rough and there was literally no support aids, no support technology. But my goodness, you know, once I got to University and I had that drive inside of me that said, I will survive and fit in no matter what it takes. By the time I left John Flynn College, I had passed a message, and the message was, this person will be as able and enabled as you make it. It’s in your hands to change the way you see things. If it’s not right, fix it and figure out how. Don’t be afraid to consolidate and collaborate with people with disabilities who live this life and have the wisdom for you. Come and ask us. Consult with us. Talk to us, include us, employ us.

Jo: Absolutely.

Pete: Jo, lets quickly chat about what help people are getting with disabilities, what they’re getting from the government. How’s the NDIS helped Emma? Especially when it’s come to her business. Are they being supportive?

Jo: NDIS has been a game changer. As I mentioned earlier, I had a decision to make. I had helped Emma form this business. So I could say, well, we’ve got no funding Oh Gee. Or get up and do it. So for me it was get up and have a go, Let’s do it. But I recognise there are lots of people, for them that might not be as easy to do. But certainly NDIS has helped enormously, not just because of the business, but the business is just one part of the bigger dream for Emma. Okay, so, yes, I was there in the beginning. But the bigger dream which is happening, her moving out, is me getting out of the road. So I knew all along. We need someone else in this role for Emma to grow because if her mother’s always walking beside her, how does she ever get to see herself like any other young person; as an individual? Discovering who am I outside of just being a son, a daughter? Who am I? A brother, a sister? That’s important for her to learn that. And that’s what NDIS has helped to foster that independence, that self-discovery. So that before Covid, Emma has travelled overseas twice, just like any young person, which is what a lot of the vision for her life is based on what is typical, what does a typical 27 year old woman’s life look like? What are the kinds of things they do? So let’s do that absolutely. Let’s ask, but what do you want to do? And that’s where the vision for Emma’s life comes from. Boards, picture boards, ideas, thoughts. Using another concept called PATH, Planning for Alternative Tomorrow’s. We’ve got another one coming up in a couple of weeks, which all mapped out on the board for Emma and her board members all to see and to input in where this will go. How do we help Emma craft a good life for when I’m gone? Despite appearances, I’m not as young as you might think.

Pete: This is only audio, so we’ll put some pictures up for you later. Now Erica, the reason behind today’s podcast is to debunk the statement that people disabilities don’t make good employees. What would you tell potential employers when it comes to employing people with disabilities?

Erica: Absolutely. Give it a go. For a number of reasons. Her work ethic, her willingness, her eagerness to learn. Yeah, I could bottle it, sometimes.

Pete: We wish we could. Sometimes don’t we?

Erica: I do, I do.

Pete: Her enthusiasm is just incredible.

Erica: It is, and because she wants to be here and because she feels like part of the team, and I guess this is her little safe place as well for her. She’s very confident and comfortable here now, which is really, really important to all of us.

Pete: Karene, what do you say to the statement? People with disability don’t make good employees.

Karene: If I had like, 30 seconds.

Pete: You have more time than that. This is your stage. Go for it.

Karene: I would say, I severely and fiercely debunk that myth. I think people with disabilities as anyone who is driven, passionate and able, makes a great employee. I challenge you, workplace, look at your role descriptions and how you might be able to help someone with difference fit into that role. How you might be able to accentuate their capacity to see what they can give. How you can reshape your office space, your whole ethos, I guess, to truly include people with disabilities. I honestly believe that if employers would be like my ex employer from John Flynn College and say, What can I do for you to make you the best employee I’ve got? Everything would change, because it was that kind of belief in me that made me get confident and able to say, Well, this is what I actually need to do. The job well, and I can’t do this, but I can do that. And he saw in me so much more. What’s the word I’m looking for? So much more input and potential. I was more able, because I was more confident, and more able to express what I could and couldn’t do and set boundaries and be productive.

Pete: And it doesn’t take a lot. That’s what I think a lot of employers are scared of. It’s going to have to change. The whole workforce. Were going to tear the buildings down and rebuild them. No.

Karene: No, absolutely not. And if they consult with people with disabilities and their support network, there are often other companies and grants, for example, that can support a work environment to be adapted to suit the individual.

Jo: Definitely, If I could jump in there, I would say, your comment about tearing down buildings, that’s not what we need. But we do need to tear up and tear down old mindsets about what people are capable of.

Karene: Absolutely.

Jo: Which in workforces in some workplaces, that may mean for someone like Karene that you’ll need to adjust a physical workplace. But for someone like Emma, and for lots of people that simply means, How can we look at the role in another way? So, you know we might have a role called administrative assistant. You know, that’s not set in concrete. That is just a series of tasks that have been tied together and called, Right, We’ll call that administrative assistant. Yeah. So what if you can craft that and take these bits for this person who can do those things particularly well? Yeah? To customise something that’s not rocket science, that’s not going to put the business out.

Karene: That’s being Creative.

Jo: You know, businesses won’t go belly up tomorrow because they were creative, but it will give back a great deal to the business. I mean, if you look at an example, I’m thinking of a young man who, like Karene had cerebral palsy in a wheelchair. He studied. Was a pharmacist. He could not for the life of him get a job. Eventually, a small little video was posted up about him and a pharmacist spoke to him and said, Okay. What that pharmacist has discovered for a very small investment in changing one aspect of that building, his business has just like, Oh, my God. Because everybody in a wheelchair, Hey, there’s a pharmacist three suburbs over, who cares? We’re going there because he gets it. He knows these issues. And that, has been so powerful for that business. Is that not something that’s going to be really great for any business?

Pete: Yeah

Jo: Like I look at businesses that I’m going to spend my money in and I choose them. It’s my money. I got power in that dollar. Who is a good employer, who is serving the community in terms of real inclusion and real diversity? Not talk first about it, but real inclusion. And that’s where I spend my money.

Pete: So true. Now this podcast is called Grow Bold with disability. What does the term living a bold life mean to you?

Erica: Living life every day, I guess. And enjoying the moments, big and small.

Karene: So your question is, what does the term living a bold life mean to you? It means being myself and being who I want to be with no apology.

Jo: Brilliant. Love it.

Pete: You can’t copy that.

Jo: That smacks it out of the park Karene, well done. Brilliant answer. I would agree. A bold life is the life of your choosing. A life where you are empowered to make the decisions and live the life the way you want to live that life, not to be a pedestrian. As most people with intellectual impairment live lives like pedestrians, watching everybody else’s life go by.

Pete: The strongest thing you said was, I don’t want my daughter to live her life in a bedroom.

Jo: That’s you know, there’s no life like that for any young person. They need to be out. And so for me, for anyone particularly, my daughter to have a bold life is actually it sounds strange, but it’s an ordinary life doing the ordinary things. Owning a property, doing your own shopping, going to the movies, going to the pub. Yes, she does love a beer or three. Or you know, going to show she went to recently to that was a raunchy sort of show and people around me will kind of..

Pete: keep it pretty clean.

Jo: No It’s okay. There’s not going to be any stripping, its alright.

Pete: *laughter*

Jo: People around me were quite surprised that she was going to see this show. And the support staff member who took her said her friends were saying, Really you guys are going to that? She’s 27.

Pete: Why wouldn’t she go?

Jo: You know. She loves dancing, She loves music, she gets it. And she had an absolute hoot. That’s a bold life to dare to live your life in the sun like everyone else. Not be a pedestrian watching it go past you. No.

Pete: 100 percent. Well, thank you very much, ladies for joining us here today on the Grow Bold with disability podcast. Again brought to you by Feros Care, and our listeners can find out more about disability and employment in Australia in the links provided in today’s show notes. Thanks so much for joining us.

Panellists: Thank you, Thank you.

This podcast is brought to you by Feros Care, an NDIS partner delivering local area coordination services in Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. Feros care is a people care organization committed to helping people live bolder lives. We call it Growing Bold. For over 30 years, Feros has been making it real for both older Australians and those living with disability. To find out more head to www.feroscare.com.au

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The content and views discussed in this podcast series are those of the individuals involved. They are not necessarily condoned by, or, are the views of Feros Care or its employees. 

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Jo Lynam, Karene Gravener and Erica Hahn

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