Finding a job is a difficult task for anyone, it can often feel like a full-time job in itself. And finding a job when you have an access need, can make things even more difficult. To get a sense of the challenges people with disabilities face when they are looking for work, we spoke to Tanya Colvin, who leads the Accessibility Tick programme.
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about the Accessibility Tick
My name is Tanya Colvin and I lead the Accessibility Tick programme. For me, I have been around disability all my life. My father is blind and my uncle has an intellectual disability. I have seen first hand the impact that employment has on people with disabilities. We are a group called Access Advisors who are within the Blind Foundation and the Accessibility Tick programme is the main product of Access Advisors. The Accessibility Tick programme is a membership programme where we work with employers to become more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.
Why was the Accessibility Tick set up? Why does New Zealand need a program like the Accessibility Tick?
In NZ, people with disabilities are 3 times more likely to be unemployed than people without disabilities. The disability employment gap is 47.7%. Although millions of dollars have been spent over the years to try and bridge this gap, we’ve made no improvement. The Blind Foundation commissioned a study in 2017 by the NZIER. They found that there are about 40,000 people with disabilities who are unemployed and want to work. If we could get 14,000 of them into work that would mean a $2.4 billion annual boost to our economy. More importantly though is the impact that meaningful employment has on our lives. Our identity and self-esteem is directly related to our employment. When we meet someone, we invariably ask, “What do you do? Imagine how you would feel if you had nothing to say to that question. The Blind Foundation set up Access Advisors and The Accessibility Tick programme to bridge the disability employment gap. They know that if we were ever going to reach this aspirational goal, the disability sector has to join forces and start working together. That’s what we have done with the Accessibility Tick.
The reason employers have not been open to employing people with disabilities is not because they didn’t want to. It is because they lacked the confidence. They didn’t know how to do it to make sure it was successful and sustainable. The disability sector has historically made it very hard. Employers would have to go to many various agencies or charities to seek advice and they often got different answers from everyone. It was all just too hard. So that is why Access Advisors and the Accessibility Tick programme was established. Employers now have one place to go for all their accessibility related queries and needs and we navigate the sector for them. The Accessibility Tick partners with organisations across the disability sector so we can provide true pan-disability expertise and support employers to become more accessible and inclusive so they can confidently employ people with disabilities and over time, they will bridge the disability employment gap.
“People with disabilities” “disabled people” “people with access needs” – what is the most inclusive language to use?
The disability sector is divided on this. Some (including NZ government) prefer disabled people. Others (myself included) prefer person-first language like people with disabilities. For the purposes of the Accessibility Tick, we use people with accessibility needs. This is because many of the people we are trying to help organisations become inclusive of, do not identify with the term disability. When we use the term accessibility needs we mean anyone who experiences barriers to employment or full participation in life due to disability, health or mental health challenges. We socialised the language with the disability sector and although they don’t all agree, they all found the term accessibility needs acceptable.
What misconceptions and bias exist against people with access needs?
There are a lot of common misconceptions out there. Some employers are reluctant to employ people with accessibility needs because they think they will be less productive, take more time off, may not stick around long. Evidence shows us these are all false. People with disabilities stay with the same employer on average for 9 years compared to 7 years for people without disabilities. On average, they have less absenteeism and their productivity levels are the same. Another myth that I frequently hear is from H&S professionals who say they can’t employ people with disabilities in their workplace because it would be a H&S risk. Oz and NZ workplace accident data tells a different story altogether. People with disabilities actually have one sixth the number of workplace accidents. If you really think about it, they spend their lives navigating risks. They would be your H&S champions!
What practical advice can you give to businesses who want to create a more inclusive workplace?
The only way to have a truly inclusive workplace is to have confidence interacting with people who are different from you. The more you and your employees get to know and interact with people who have accessibility needs, the more confident you will become and accessibility will become important to you. It will just be the right thing to do and you will know that if your business is not accessible you could be missing out on some of the best employees. The most simple piece of advice I can give is to just ask the person with accessibility needs what they need or how do they see this working? You don’t need to be an expert in what they, need- they are the experts, so just ask them.
Surely it can’t just be down to employers - what is our role to play as individuals?
Diversity happens in the board room and inclusion happens on the shop floor. All of us has a role to play in inclusion. Get to know the people in your workplace who are different from you. Really get to know them. When you do, you will find that none of us are really all that different. We all just want to be accepted and valued and we want to feel that we belong.
The best thing you can do is to encourage your organisation to become more accessible and inclusive and not to leave disability out of the broader diversity conversation. Encourage them to employ people with disabilities. They will bring a rich diversity of thought and creativity to your teams. People with disabilities have to become extremely creative because that are constantly having to figure out new and novel ways to do things, just to do simple things that many of us take for granted. I encourage you to make more friends with people who have accessibility needs in order to increase your own disability confidence…and become an Accessibility Champion for your organisation.
Any predictions for the future… is the future bright for people with access needs in New Zealand?
From my perspective it certainly seems so. Thanks to all the great work that many others like Diversity Works, the Rainbow Tick and many more have done before us on diversity and inclusion more broadly, employers have started working to bring diversity and equity into their workplaces in terms of gender, cultural diversity and sexual identity. Now it’s time for them to tackle what this means for people with disabilities.
We also have the Access Alliance to thank. The Access Alliance is a group of disability sector organisations who have come to together to lobby for accessibility legislation. Their campaign, Access Matters, has been hugely successful and has played a big part in raising the profile of accessibility and disability inclusion with government and other organisations. We support the work of the Access Alliance. Access Alliance and Access Advisors have a shared vision. We want NZ to be known worldwide as being the most accessible and inclusive country in the world…and I believe we can get there.
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