Last week I was commissioned by ABC RampUp to write the following piece. Unfortunately due to Tony Abbott's entirely welcome and sensible decision to backflip on the NDIS, and RampUp's desire to cover this issue with its own take, my piece has now been decommissioned due to its lack of currency (and not issues with the quality of the piece). I have obtained permission from ABC RampUp to publish it here instead.
How would you feel if your job description was a maker of ‘shoe bags’?
That was the question I asked my as I read the transcript for the ABC radio program The World Today last week. The report conducted by Barbara Miller discussing the work of employment agency Fighting Chance was no doubt intended as a feel good story to warm the cockles of people’s hearts. Fighting Chance, according to its website, is an organisation ‘specifically designed to employ people with disabilities.’ According to its website, Fighting Chance provides ‘age-appropriate, choice-driven services to young Australian adults with a physical disability.’ After reading the ABC report though, I was left to wonder if making ‘shoe bags’ is really an acceptable form of employment for an organisation that suggests that correctly suggests that employment should provide meaningful stimulation for people with disabilities.
Along with Fighting Chance, there are similar employment agencies such as Steps Employment in my home state of Queensland. These two agencies and others like it face some difficult challenges when placing the right person with a disability to the right employment opportunity. This is why the report on The World Today saddened me a great deal. The examples given made Fighting Chance sound like a glorified respite service designed to keep people with disabilities occupied during the day while their carers took a much needed reprieve or went to their own jobs.
The Managing Director of Fighting Chance, Laura O’Reilly says she drew inspiration from her late brother Shane, who was intellectually bright, was physically unable to participate in an ‘average’ occupation, but wanted to make an important contribution to society. However, the ABC Report failed to address some important questions into whether organisations such as Fighting Chance help people with disabilities achieve meaningful employment in every sense of the word.
Are these people with disabilities (and others like them) being paid at least the minimum award wage?
Does the cost of their personal care get taken out of their wage? Or is it a service provided for by the organisation and/or the employer (as it should be)?
After all, a sizable take home wage is how society measures success in the workplace.
One would have thought that while the ABC was warming listeners’ hearts they could address issues of basic human rights, but then again that its not exactly a warm and fuzzy topic.
Last week the Federal Government and the State Government of New South Wales announced nearly $48 million dollars worth of extra funding for school leavers as they transition into employment. As welcome as this funding is, it is important to recognise that people with disabilities don’t want to leave school and find employment just to waste time during the day, or to perform menial tasks (such as the making ‘shoe bags’), no matter their disability. They are also entitled to be fully compensated for their work, no matter what extra support is needed to ensure they can be productive.
Stories of successful employment that balance the needs of the employee, the employer and the organisations who provide services to support both parties are there if the ABC was willing to dig a little deeper. Unfortunately, the example they provided is not one of them.
Perhaps they could consult one of the many people with disabilities who have found meaningful, productive and rewarding jobs in any number of sectors. Not all of us want to make ‘shoe bags’ after all.