What is the future of disability employment? If the last 30 years are any indication, it will be remarkably different from what it is today.
In 1990 – when Bob Hawke was prime minister, and Hey Hey It’s Saturday was still on the air – disability and mental health were largely misunderstood, sheltered workshops were the norm, and the Australian Government’s Disability Employment Services program (DES) didn’t even exist.
In the next two decades that followed, education on diversity and inclusion in the workplace blossomed and society’s understanding of disability completely.
Even though we have made massive leaps forward towards inclusivity, we still have a lot of work to do, and we’re committed to making this change happen.
Celebrating our past by looking forward
As we celebrate our 30-year anniversary of helping people with disability find meaningful employment, we’re looking towards the future.
We asked experts, carers, and people with disability to answer a question: what do the next 30 years look like?
That simple question unearthed a myriad of thoughts, conversations, and opportunities: how will Disability Employment Services work? What barriers will people with disability face? How will the world grow to become more diverse, inclusive, and acceptive?
We are on the precipice of change. From the wisdom of experts, to the lived experience of people with disability and their carers, the next 30 years will be the epicentre of something incredible.
Let their words guide your imagination. Let their dreams change the world.
Employment Consultant, EPIC Assist
In the next 30 years, I would love to see the stigma of having a disability completely disappear. Seeing people being accepted for who they are and not being judged for their disability would be truly inspiring.
I would also like to see it ingrained within society that disabilities come in all shapes and sizes and they do not define who a person is.
People have all sorts of strengths, abilities, dreams, goals, and lots of people also happen to have a disability that they survive with each and every day. Because of this, I see people with disability as having superpowers for they have survived through all sorts of battles, be it physical, mental or emotional.
In the next 30 years, I want disability to be seen as a norm. Employers should not feel that hiring someone with a disability is a bad thing. People with disability may surprise you with what they are capable of accomplishing.
Employers should not feel that it is a bad thing for someone to take a bit more time to accomplish a task. It should be more emphasis on how hard someone has worked to achieve their goals. There should be disability support in all workplaces to ensure that everyone is able to achieve their dreams.
Occupational Therapist, 35 years
My hope is that in 30 years our communities will be so inclusive of diversity in all walks of life, and so comfortable with offering individualised support to all people that labels like ‘disability’ will no longer apply.
I hope that all will have the opportunity to experience meaningful life roles, relationships, independence, work, and activities that both refresh and challenge. I hope that all will have the opportunity to voice what is important to them, and have the support to get there, wherever ‘there’ is.
Chief Operational Officer, EPIC Assist
Wouldn’t it wonderful if in the next 30 years we witnessed a shift in attitudes towards people with disability as the public became educated about disabilities in general, so their fear was removed.
If the focus was more on the person rather than their disability just imagine how well-balanced society would be.
If employers also had the opportunity to donate 5% of their tax to a registered charity of their choice, it would allow the NFP sector to grow through such a purposeful approach.
For EPIC as a charity with so much knowledge in disability employment, I hope to see it grow to help more people with disability achieve their goals and dreams.
In the next 30 years, I want disability to not be a word and for everyone to be considered equal. I want people to feel comfortable talking about what they aren’t good at without feeling judged. I want people with disability to get the same go as everyone else.
Parent of children with disability, EPIC Regional Coordinator
As a mother of children with disability, the future is looking bright, with people becoming more accepting of various abilities across the board.
Although there is so much room for improvement for inclusiveness, I’m hopeful that with so many advocates around the world, it truly highlights how special each person is and how inclusiveness brings such diversity to your home, work, social life and more.
I am currently going through a change of paediatrician for one of my children, which has seen a whole new team greet us with enthusiasm, not feeling judged for my child being ‘over-excited’ at all times or for the million questions he has to ask. This in itself has made the transition very comforting and not so confrontational for him to adjust. People like this need to be highlighted and applauded for their ability to see past people’s differences (at the end of the day, we all have quirks) and provide a safe and inclusive environment.
Moving into employment – if workplaces had understandings of how various abilities can improve with culture and performance, the world would be a brighter place and walking through the shops with my child would not have so many eyes staring at him or pointing at him for his different behaviour.
A question that I have been asked many times is, ‘Don’t you wish he would just behave?’ and I always respond with, ‘He is behaving, however, his behaviour is different to others and no I wouldn’t change it, because that would change who he is’. Being only 5 years old, the best example he provides to people is, ‘The lightning in my brain sometimes doesn’t go to where it needs to go and that’s okay’. I told him this because he would tell me that his brain makes him do naughty things and he doesn’t want to. He’s not naughty, his brain just operates differently as do each of our brains.
My ultimate goal as a mother is for him to walk proudly wherever he pleases without being looked down on or judged for being different and I’ll always be his biggest supporter and advocate.
Personal carer and disability support worker
In the next 30 years, I envisage greater opportunities of choice and inclusion available to people with disability through person-centred connection with service providers and community. Effective partnership with providers would promote autonomy and bright futures with less barriers. Creating initiatives in community engagement through creative and educational spaces highlights unique talents and skills of individuals living with disabilities while supporting mental wellbeing.
Previous EPIC participant
Over the next 30 years, I believe it is of utmost importance to properly reframe what an average member of society thinks qualifies as a disability. We must consistently campaign for and shed light on invisible disabilities.
As it stands, so much discrimination comes from people taking to task those who qualify for ‘perks’ such a disability parking permit, but don’t have any obvious physical visual disability. Ironically, those that do this believe they are defending people who are ‘really’ disabled.
It is clear that this attitude stems from an ingrained stance that a disability is nothing more, or nothing less, than someone immobile and in a wheelchair. If you don’t fit this mould, you don’t get the HONOUR of being one of the REAL disabled folk.
I advocate for the presumption that anyone you meet may or may not have struggles, and whether you can perceive those visually or not, that they deserve kindness and the benefit of the doubt. Until then, it’s a gamble whether I can park without being questioned by a well-intentioned ‘ally’.
Mental Health Consultant, EPIC Assist
Over the next 30 years, society’s focus on mental health support will only continue to grow and this will need to be an area of focus for any disability-based organisation that wants to be taken seriously.
DES providers will likely be working more directly with primary health and mental health service providers, and this will drive the expectation that all DES providers will employ Employment Consultants that have a stronger grasp of the treatment protocols and recovery models that have been introduced into the primary health care setting over the past 20 years.
I think the era of having multiple dedicated physical office sites may be significantly curtailed and we will move towards providing improved access to participants using a whole host of new technologies.
In these respects, I think it would be unlikely that DES will be offered in its current form in 30 years’ time. For EPIC to continue to operate as a strong community organisation in 2050 we will need to grow with the changing times and invest substantially in the training and education of our front-line staff to deliver a much broader range of community services.