Reflections on the first episode of the ABC’s Employable Me

Thursday, 5 April 2018

For a while now, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the opportunity to watch Employable Me, a 3-part documentary series following people with disability as they look for work. The first episode screened Tuesday night on the ABC, and it did not disappoint.

The show is a real and raw depiction of the challenges associated with job hunting when you have a disability. It also demonstrates the unique skills and attributes of people with disability, while encouraging employers to exercise understanding, patience and flexibility in their hiring practices.

An interesting observation from episode 1 was the stark differences between 21-year-old Rohan and 28-year-old Tim, both of whom are on the autism spectrum. Rohan is an outgoing person with a superb memory, but is extremely hard on himself. Tim is a stellar software tester who struggles deeply with anxiety.

I found the decision to feature two people with the same disability a timely reminder that even if two people have the same diagnosis, they are not the same. They are individuals, with different personalities that bring different attributes to the table.

What I see as the central theme of the show was captured beautifully by Kayla, a young woman with Tourette syndrome who featured in Tuesday’s episode: ‘It would be better if people didn’t judge others because of their differences. Because we’re all different.’

Remembering that different is not bad or ‘less than’ was driven home by Rohan’s father John on Tuesday night when he said, ‘I think there’s a huge prejudice out there in the workforce against employing people with disability. Unless you’ve lived with or really know someone with a disability well, you don’t realise what fantastic abilities they do have.’

It was a privilege to be invited into the families that support people with disability every day. Through seeing ‘behind the scenes’, we realise that there is much more at play than simply changing employers’ perspectives and finding jobs for people with disability. Often there is work to be done in making people with disability feel that they are worthy, and much of the time it’s parents and loved ones that play a big role in building that worth.

‘When he first realised he was autistic, he was devastated because he thought he wasn’t the son we wanted. But it didn’t take too long for him to realise he had strengths, and we kept pointing those out,’ we heard from Rohan’s mum Catherine.

‘We just need to find the job out there to match his abilities, because I know that he’s got a lot to give,’ said Tim’s mum.

At another point throughout the episode, Rohan’s dad is giving him a ‘pep talk’ prior to a work trial and says, ‘make sure to not be too hard on yourself, because they’re not expecting you to be perfect’. Rohan agrees that he needs to cut himself more slack.

It makes sense that people with disability sometimes struggle with self-worth, as much of our identity is built around having a job and contributing to society. Having a job opens doors, creates independence and gives our lives meaning and purpose. But pervasive low expectations of people with disability mean that many have never been encouraged to think of work as a possibility.

At one point in the episode, Rohan states that he wants to become independent but he fears that he will be stuck in his parent’s house forever. ‘I don’t want that; I want my own life’, says Rohan.

Rohan’s statement echo concerns of many people with disability and their families around the country: that they will never be given an opportunity to prove themselves and reach their potential.

It’s more important than ever that we continue working hard to level the playing field for people with disability.

I’m proud of EPIC’s results in getting people on the autism spectrum into sustainable employment. Almost 1 in 5 of the people with disability EPIC supports are on the autism spectrum. More than half of those we place in employment are still in their jobs after 6 months. That’s numerous lives that we’re helping change, and workplaces that we’re assisting to become inclusive and diverse, and therefore more representative of our society.

To see the issue of low employment being tackled in the mainstream media is heartening. And I’ve really enjoyed experiencing and partaking in the conversation surrounding Employable Me. I look forward to watching episode 2 next week, and invite you to do the same.