People with a disability must aim high

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: focus on ability. It’s so central to NOVA Employment that our annual short film competition (www.focusonability.com.au) showcases and celebrates the power of these three words.

Each film gives us an example – and there are thousands more out there in the community – of what can be achieved when people with disability aim high with their goals.

It makes no sense to exclude people from the talent pool.

A pioneering company in disability inclusion, Walgreen’s (a US-based drugstore chain), has had remarkable results over the past decade by proactively employing people with and without disabilities, on equal footing, side by side. Today, 10 per cent of staff in their distribution centres have a known disability. And their results? Improvements in efficiency, safety, productivity and employee retention. The business case is strong.  

Chapter 4 of my book, The Ten Demandments, goes into further detail on the Walgreen Disability Inclusion Initiative and other models implemented by businesses.

Here at NOVA, experience tells us to get people into work for as many hours as they are capable of. More hours equals more money, more contact with people, more to do and more responsibility. Social integration becomes the norm, not the exception, and the end-result is the gaining of independence.

We have put our money where our mouth is by including maximum work participation as a key performance indicator in our business plan. Jobs with fewer than 15 hours employment per week do not count towards annual staff bonuses. We also celebrate anyone who achieves an apprenticeship or traineeship for their job seekers.

NOVA-placed workers gain at least 50 per cent more employment (hours and money) than our competitors. The average is 22 hours per week. However, such figures do not count towards service ranking or allocation of business in our current system. Across the disability employment industry, aiming low is rewarded financially, as government funding is the same ($8000) for an 8-hour placement as it is for 20-, 30- or 40-hour-per-week placements.

Particularly among for-profit employment services, this leads to the insidious practice of ‘carving’, where a 40-hour-per-week job is broken down into five different placements.

What does this add up to?

No further participation for the job seeker, social isolation, and reinforced stereotyping of the capacity and value of people who have a disability. Hands up anyone who wants this. Then why do we let it happen?

- Martin Wren