ABC’s Employable Me is back for a second season, with episode 1 of 3 screening last night. The show follows nine people with disability as they navigate the minefield of finding employment. Their candid stories, setbacks and triumphs have touched the hearts of viewers across Australia; many of whom have never thought about the challenges of finding work with disability.
Last year, I did a summary piece on each episode in the 3-part series, and I’m keen to do the same this year. There’s so much to learn from the experiences of job seekers with disability, and the weekly screening of Employable Me seems a perfect opportunity to reflect.
Reputable brands leading the charge
I’d like to start by praising the ABC for backing this great series. Employable Me, and other shows spotlighting marginalised people (like ABC’s You Can’t Ask That), bring forth experiences not often seen in the mainstream. This is essential, because until people with disability are seen on our screens and within popular culture all the time, disability will never be viewed as normal, and therefore always be placed on the fringes of society.
While the voices of advocates have always been important in driving change, in reality it often takes large, established organisations and brands (like ABC) to take the lead. When reputable voices place people with disability firmly in the spotlight, important conversations begin to take place. And conversation leads to action.
A job opens doors to life
One of the most important parts of Employable Me is understanding people’s motivations for wanting to work. And importantly, understanding that for people with disability, those reasons mirror those of everyone else: money; purpose; a need to contribute to society and feel that they are making a difference.
A world where disability is normal
A theme that came across strongly last night from job seekers Kathleen, Paul and Eric, was the need for disability to be viewed as a normal, everyday part of life. Eric expressed his frustrations that he is ‘not accepted in mainstream society’, stating he ‘looks forward to a society where disability is seen as a normal part of life, and people aren’t afraid to get to know people with disability’. Similarly, when discussing her autism, Kathleen joked, ‘don’t worry, you don’t have to send me flowers, I’m fine!’
Learnings from job seekers
Watching Employable Me gets me thinking about high level social issues, and how to combat them. But there are so many lessons to learn from the individual job seekers letting us into their world.
Ever heard that people on the autism spectrum struggle with social interactions? We all need reminding that this is true of some but not all people. Just as we can never make a blanket rule that covers all people from the same nationality, faith, or race, the same is true of people with the same disability.
Kathleen is one of the most social, outspoken, and confident people you will ever meet. She turns stereotypes about autism on their head, as stated by the psychologist that assesses her at the start of the series.
I loved how her personality was matched so well to her role at the wax museum. At EPIC, we’re all about harnessing people’s strengths and allowing them to flourish in the right work environment. So to see Kathleen being able to let her personality shine, while she educated everyone on her extensive knowledge of pop culture, was a real pleasure.
Eric is a remarkably optimistic and happy young man, with a powerful support network around him. Eric’s mum, who is losing her vision and taking it in her stride in a remarkable way, has taught him to be work hard, remain positive, but be realistic and keep his feet on the ground.
Eric is determined to secure paid work in the health sector, and uses work experience as a way of getting a foot in the door. It’s a good play, and leads to his eventual employment at Central Coast Health.
I thought I’d share a few profound quotes from Eric last night, which speak to his determination, optimism, and no-nonsense attitude.
What do you want in life?
“I want people to see me before my disability.”
Why do you want a job?
“I have a brain and I want to use it.”
Have you ever thought about giving up?
“That’s a dumb question.”
What would having a job mean to you?
A major take-out from Paul’s story was the pure grit and resilience needed by people with disability when job hunting. It was heart wrenching to see Paul get knocked back time and time again, especially from his dream job as cleaner on Sydney Rail.
I found myself nodding when Paul’s employment consultant said:
“If only they could skip all the processes and just meet him face to face. He’d get that job just like that.”
Her statement resonated because the truth is, Paul isn’t competing on an even playing field right now. His strengths are his passion and detailed knowledge of trains, his loyalty, and his persistence and resilience in the face of adversity. Those characteristics would likely come across better in a face to face situation, rather than a basic written application.
In time, we hope that businesses will become more open-minded about hiring people with disability. But in the meantime, organisations like EPIC are available to support businesses to implement processes that give people like Paul a chance to compete equitably for roles.
I look forward to the next episode of Employable Me, and hope you’re enjoying it too!