Final reflections on the ABC’s Employable Me

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Last night signalled the end of the ABC’s 3-part series Employable Me, which followed 9 people with disability as they searched for jobs. It’s been a ground-breaking series in many respects, bringing this often overlooked topic into the mainstream, and generating extensive conversation and insight in the process.

The show has shone a light on the skills and talents of people with disability, and how different thinking can be an advantage in a workplace. I think it would be timely, with this being the last episode, to talk more specifically about some unique attributes we saw in job seekers across the 3 episodes.

Rohan, from episode 1, was able to quickly recall 15 unrelated words in the correct order, a skill seen in less than 2 per cent of the population. In episode 2, Krystyna’s photographic memory allowed her to remember her exact activities on any given day, and relay incredibly specific details about various topics, particularly geography. Tim’s acute attention to detail saw him identify anomalies and bugs in software testing.

Last night we saw Cain’s strong observational skills and focus lend itself well to film reviewing. And when Jessica met with Adam, from Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, she completed his activities so quickly he wasn’t even able to start the stopwatch. If these unique skills can be effectively harnessed in the workplace, anything’s possible.

In addition to showcasing the skills and talents of people with disability, the show highlighted the importance of a supportive environment in allowing those talents to be unearthed. It called upon businesses to change their approach to interviewing, broaden their idea of what a ‘good employee’ looks like, and embrace the idea that ‘different’ does not mean ‘bad’ or ‘less than’. I’ve explored these themes in a previous reflection, so I thought it would be better now to address the responsibilities of society more broadly.

A sentiment expressed by Marty’s mum last night hit home for me, and that is, ‘It’s not easy watching your child struggle; we need more people to be kind and understanding’. Last night, we saw all 3 job seekers and their loved ones speak to the prejudice and discrimination they have faced over the course of their lives, and how that has impacted their path to employment.

Cain’s mother explained his school years as ‘horrific and heartbreaking’, speaking in detail about how extreme bullying led him to attempt suicide. These days, Cain is extremely capable, but his extreme lack of confidence affects his self-esteem, and causes him to default to negative thoughts.

Marty’s mum explained that he is very sensitive about the way he is treated by others, and ‘if he’s not treated like an equal adult, that can cause issues.’ Jessica said, ‘people used to use ‘gay’ as an insult and nowadays it seems like people use ‘autistic’ in the same way. There is still a stigma that people with autism are dumb.’

These statements, and countless others in previous episodes, highlight the responsibility of everyone to realise what they say, and how they act towards people with disability, makes a lasting impact. People with disability are just like anyone else, and they are shaped by the perceptions of others.

It’s incredibly important to educate businesses about the importance of creating safe, welcoming workplaces which allow the skills and talents of people with disability to be discovered. But so too is it important for every single person to realise their role in levelling the playing field.

At EPIC, we help people with disability find employment, but a crucial part of that journey is getting them job-ready. And that’s not just about filling skill gaps, but also helping them believe they are worthy of opportunities, and have a right to employment like everyone else.

We build them up, help them back themselves, and give them techniques for dealing with concerns and issues they may have. We support job seekers as they tackle new challenges in unfamiliar environments, and give them the best chance of success. And importantly, we stay on their journey for as long as they need us. Watching Jessica struggle during her interview last night, I couldn’t help think things could have unfolded differently if she had someone there to support her.

In order for people with disability to truly thrive, both in workplaces and in life, they need to know that it’s safe for them to be themselves, and that their differences are welcomed and embraced. And that’s up to everyone.

I’m hopeful the dialogue sparked by Employable Me will continue well past the series’ finish. I believe the series has been strong and effective in framing ‘different’ as an advantage, and not ‘bad’, or ‘less than’. I’m hopeful that we are reaching a point in history where society can begin to see the benefits that come from unique thinking. As Cain says, “I see it [my autism] as a different perspective, and there’s nothing wrong with a fresh pair of eyes”.