07 Jun An insiders perspective on accessibility and disability in corporate Australia
By Kashveera Chanderjith
Disability, a conversation spoken about passionately amongst advocates of people with disabilities and with pride and sometimes anguish, amongst people living with disabilities. However, when it comes to Corporate Australia, this conversation somewhat quietens as this is yet to fully become part of the fabric of our employee conversations, customer interactions and safety considerations.
Around a third of Australian households include a person with a disability, and if almost 20% of all Australians have some form of a disability, then the reasonable question to ask, is every company today representative of all Australian people? The stark reality is – probably not.
The figures further confirm it: Australia ranks 21 of 34 OECD countries for labour force participation of people with a disability. So, as we front a new era as the Royal Commission into violence, neglect and exploitation against people with disability, it is time to have these conversations.
Being a person with a profound disability – being profoundly deaf and working in one of Australia’s largest Corporates has given me a unique and personal insight into the challenges and opportunities that exist for Australia in overcoming bias and embracing a new world of universal design.
When we design for people with disabilities, we design for all. This is indeed powerful, because when we build a ramp to safely transport people who utilise a wheelchair, we are unconsciously also catering for the new parents trying to balance a stroller, an injured footy player or an elderly Australian using a cane.
The power of language is something we almost take for granted, but by using inclusive and accessible language, we can become more disability confident – in fact this is the biggest cornerstone of accessibility for me personally.
In doing so, the right questions are asked, and we start to put people before the disability in using person-first language. This is empowering for both the person with a disability and yourself. I can’t count the number of times people have told me that I’m impaired, afflicted or struck by a disability or confined to a sub-class such as deaf = dumb. This is when we must take the challenge to use language in an empowering way because I can guarantee you the last thing I am doing is suffering from my disability.
At the end of the day, the simple question that every person with a disability would appreciate is a respectful: “What can I do to assist you?” – This is so much better than people assuming the worst and raising their voices, flustering about what to do next or simply ignoring the person altogether.
I will be sharing my personal story of a young girl born in Apartheid South Africa who was told that she would never ever be able to speak to a Profoundly Deaf Corporate Manager here in Australia. In doing so, I will also be focusing on accessibility and disability – join me in building confidence in having these conversations to consciously build a more inclusive and accessible Australia.