People with disability continue to succeed in a year filled with adversity

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

As we move into the final month of 2021, it is a time to reflect on the year gone by. This year has been filled with unknowns. The world has had to adapt as it guides itself through the COVID pandemic.

It may be easy to look back on the year and see only lockdowns, restrictions and missed opportunities. However, as International Day of People with Disability is celebrated in December we have chosen to reflect and focus on the amazing contributions and successes people with disability have achieved this year.

International Day of People with Disability is a United Nations observed day celebrated on December 3rd. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability.

This year’s theme is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.

Before we look to the future, we have gathered some of the biggest wins for EPIC Assist (EPIC), our job seekers, our employers and the wider disability community. These accomplishments have broken down barriers and will help make the world a more accessible, sustainable and inclusive place.

Paralympics setting the standard

The highlight for many this year was the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Australia got to witness our amazing athletes perform on the world’s biggest stage. We saw Dylan Alcott notch another big win on his way to achieving the Golden Slam. Swimmer Ellie Cole became the most decorated female Paralympian with 17 medals to her name. Madison de Rozario stunned everyone, winning both the Women’s 880m T53 and Women’s Marathon T54 wheelchair races.

The Paralympics was the catalyst of setting the standard of what can be achieved when barriers are removed. Many of the athletes amplified that the inclusion and accessibility they experience at the games should be the requirement for all people with disability.

“No one should have to justify the space that they take up and people with disabilities shouldn’t have to be exceptional in order to be accepted.” – Madison de Rozario

Handwork and loyalty celebrated

This year EPIC celebrated major work anniversaries for some of our participants. Jolleen celebrated 15 years working at Woolworths. The team at Woolworths threw a party for her to recognise her achievements and mark the momentous occasion. Angelica commemorated 13 years at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Port Douglas by sharing a cake made by the resort’s chef. Paul was honoured for his hard work and dedication at his retirement party after 42 years of service at Uniline Australia.

There is a misconception that people with disability don’t positively add to the workplace or will cost the employer money. However, research has shown that people with disability have lower absenteeism, lower indecent of workplace injury, are more loyal and passionate about their work. It is clear from Jolleen’s, Angelica’s and Paul’s stories that people with disability offer a wide range of benefits to a workplace.

EPIC staff member Ryan celebrates with EPIC participant Jolleen.
We love to celebrate our job seeker’s success. Jolleen is celebrating her 15th anniversary at Woolworths and loves her job more every day.

Stories of disability to the front

2021 was a great year for disability representation in the arts and media. We read about the many different experiences of Australians with disability in the book Growing up Disabled in Australia, edited by Carly Findlay. We watched people on the autism spectrum explore the world of dating on Love on the Spectrum. We saw more actors with disability shine in their roles on shows like Special, Sex Education and the L Word Next Generation.

The media has a notoriously bad history of representing people with disability. There has been a complete lack of TV shows, movies and books that tell the stories of people with disability and if they do the disability is usually seen as something that needs to be overcome.

Although there is still a long way to go, 2021 made big steps forward in making sure stories about disability are told by people with disability.

First jobs secured

The COVID era brought a range of new challenges to the already hard process of securing employment. Through all the challenges, many of our job seekers were still able to secure their first jobs.

Tyrone started working at the Seville Mercy Conference Centre in July 2021. In his role as a Guest Services Officer, he does a range of jobs including welcoming and assisting guests, preparing guest rooms and conference rooms, cleaning bathrooms and food service areas and maintaining the storeroom. His Manager, Rod, couldn’t be happier with the progress Tyrone has made in such a short time.

This is just one example of our many job seekers who were able to achieve their employment goals through the adversity of this year.

Two men stand either side of a pull up banner. The man on the right is older and wears a button up business shirt. The man on the left is young and wears a polo shirt
Tyrone is thriving in his role at Seville Mercy Conference Centre

Auslan interpreters show the importance of accessibility

The daily COVID press conferences became the norm in 2021. As we all tuned in to watch our respective State Premiers and Chief Health Officers alert us on the recent cases, lockdown updates and changes to restrictions there was always an Auslan interpreter by their side.

The Auslan interpreters have become familiar faces to all Australians, some even being approached on the street like celebrities. When they did not appear at the conferences, many people, even outside of the disability community, asked why. This newfound fame of the Auslan interpreters has raised the profile on the importance of accessibility.

It gave Australians an insight into how barriers of accessibility, that they take for granted, can have a huge effect on people with disability. The Auslan interpreters have made their mark but as the daily conferences become less frequent, we must continue the conversation around how we improve accessibility long into the future.

Employers make inclusive and diverse hiring a priority

Due to misconceptions and the stigma attached to disability, many people with disability can’t even get their foot in the door as employers put them in the ‘too hard pile.’ It is up to employers to look past their initial reservations to ensure they don’t miss on the many benefits of hiring someone with disability.

This year EPIC worked with many employers who were able to see the benefits and made it a priority to ensure their workplaces are inclusive and diverse.

Oasis Café in Redcliffe has an ethos of creating a safe and welcoming environment for people with disability, customers and staff alike. They have six people on their staff who have a disability and cannot be happier with their work ethic and progress.

Marie, the owner of Bird’s Nest Restaurant, wanted to give back to the community and help change the stigma attached to hiring people with disability. She employed Talia who has mild autism, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Talia has impressed Marie so much that she has progressed from dishwasher to a kitchen hand and short-order cook.

Long-time EPIC employer the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Port Douglas were able to see the talent that other employers looked past and are loving having Angelica and Josh on their staff.

“People with disability have a lot to offer. When I look at Ang and Josh, they are talented people. They can think and do lots of things. They just needed the opportunity to grow and develop and become independent,” says Michele, Human Resource Manager of the Sheraton.

All of these employers along with many others were awarded an EPIC Supportive Employer Recognition Award to recognise their efforts in creating inclusive and diverse workplaces.

EPIC looking to the future

To ensure that we progress in creating a community that is inclusive, accessible and sustainable, EPIC is committed to continuing to help and support people with disability achieve their employment goals in any way we can.

If you are an employer wanting to make a difference or if you are a job seeker with a disability needing support finding work, contact EPIC today.

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