Duty of risk

In a recent blog I talked about Duty of Care and Dignity of Risk, where duty of care refers to ensuring that the most vulnerable people in society are protected from harm while at the same time being challenged to achieve their potential.

Since then I’ve wondered, ‘What if we framed the conversation in reverse?’

Reversed, Duty of Risk refers to a person’s right to experience all that life has to offer. This would mean we all have an obligation to ‘aim high’ on behalf of people with disability. In my case, service providers such as NOVA must continually encourage job seekers to reach their potential by finding work with as many hours and as much pay and responsibility as each person is capable of.

This is risky business. But, as the new term implies, we must do this to redress the historical imbalance set by consistently aiming low on behalf of people with disability.

It’s risky for the worker, their parents/carers, the employer and the service provider. It’s a significant time of stress for all stakeholders, no matter how smooth the process. It’s even possible that some stakeholders may not see any ‘dignity’ but a whole lot of ‘risk’ (a la ‘the wood for the trees’).

I’ll show you what I mean:

The worker

Particularly for a first job, work can be scary. Apart from all of the different routes to employment, at once there are new routines, new people, new expectations and new rules.

The parents/carers

Like waving our kids off to school, seeing them grow into adults and find independence can be hard, not least of all for parents of people with disability, who have rightly been protecting their young people from a world that largely seems not to care. And yet parents need to be careful not to become unwitting victims of the ‘soft bigotry of low expectation’, accepting anything since anything beats nothing!

The employers

Businesses don’t operate in a bubble. If society perceives employment of people with disability as ‘high risk’ most businesses will too. In my line of work, often the first business owners to step forward and give our job seekers a go are those who have a personal relationship with a person with disability. They know from experience that many of the risks can be overcome.

The service provider

This is where we come in. It’s a disability employment service’s obligation not only to personally ‘aim high’, but to encourage, reassure and educate all of the stakeholders on the possibilities available to people with disability. NOVA’s superior performance is a realisation of the staff skills and aspiration for their job seeker/workers and testimony to their ability to help identify the risks and provide solidly based evidence that, with appropriate supports, these can be overcome.

Because of the underutilisation of the group of workers identified as people with disability, when it comes to employment perceived risk is higher than actual risk. This is changing, but still too slowly for my liking.

- Martin Wren