Briar Thompson

Dear Department of Social Services,
I wish to make a submission into the Disability Employment Strategy.

I am a person with multiple disabilities, both physical and mental. I am in my mid thirties and throughout the last decade or so I have faced many barriers to employment, some of which are included in the Consultation Paper and others are not.

Barriers to Employment in the APS
Firstly, there is a major barrier of employment for people with disabilities in the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), and I wonder if this is consistent in the APS. At the end of last year I was encouraged by one of the appeal officers in the NDIA to apply for a job with them. In January I noticed that there was an application process for disability only positions of a Planner. The advert said it was an 18-month non-ongoing position. I assumed that because it was a position for people with disabilities that there would be the option of working part-time, as I would assume that a small minority of people with disabilities could work full time.
I asked in the interview if this was a full-time or part-time role. I was informed that it was a full-time role, but that in the Enterprise Agreement there was room to negotiate part-time hours if I was deemed a successful candidate. I got offered the job and informed recruitment that I can only work part-time hours and not the 37.5 hours I was offered. Recruitment and the manager, whom I would be reporting too, said that it was a requirement of the NDIA that employees work full-time for three to six months before part-time hours were negotiated. I was informed that the negotiation of part-time hours was dependent on various factors and at a minimum of 22.5 hours per week. I was told that the NDIA only offers full time employment.
A lawyer from the Disability Law Centre informed me this is a clear case of discrimination, with the NDIA creating a barrier in refusing to let me work part-time from the start of my contract. The whole process felt like a tick the box exercise to be seen as being inclusive of people with disabilities. If the NDIS is about “creating a more inclusive society, enabling Australians with disabilities to fulfil their potential as equal citizens”, how come they have this barrier in employing people with disabilities by only offering full-time employment? Should not the NDIA of all organisations be accepting and accommodating to people with disabilities by allowing part-time employment? Should not the NDIA and the APS be the primary example of employing people with disabilities?

Disability Employment Services
I have been to several Disability Employment Services (DES) over the years. I view these organisations as nothing more than easy ways for owners of said places to earn money. I have a Bachelor of Social Work and a Masters in Applied Social Research. I walk into a DES with these qualifications and they simply do not know what to do with me. I have been told by several organisations that they only put people into very basic jobs such as on assembly lines and photocopying all day. With each of the DES I have been sent too, they have done nothing for me except ticking the box that they have met with me. Of all the jobs I have gotten whilst under a DES I have found myself and they have only stepped in to offer the employer the employer assistance fund. One organisation helped me organise workplace modifications and another entirely left it over for me to organise, whilst reaping the funding for ‘helping me with this task’. I tried to go to a mainstream employment service and have been told that I can only go to a DES.
In my case I am well qualified but my health conditions prevent me from working full-time. I can only work somewhere between 8-10 hours, which makes it very difficult to find a job that suits my qualifications. Despite telling DES that I am happy to work at a menial job, I am often refused such work because employers will tell me that I am over qualified for the position. I then get offered jobs that suit my qualifications but they require more hours than I can work and therefore, I am unable to accept the job.
Is there not a way for a person with a disability to work part-time in a job that suits their qualifications? Can we educate DES that some people with disabilities have qualification but they need help to find jobs that will be flexible so that they can still attend their regular appointments?

There is no scope within the realms of Centrelink for there to be an understanding that a person with a disability and chronic health conditions come in an out of employment based on the status of their condition, which for some people, such as myself can change rapidly. The rules and requirements for working whilst on welfare is a deterrent to finding employment.
In order for a person to be able to seek assistance from a DES they must be assessed by Centrelink. As soon as Centrelink deems you as able to work, then they often put requirements as to how many jobs you must apply for each week or how many hours you must work during the week. As soon as you’re unable to fulfil that quota as a result of illness or disability you are penalised. Quite often having that stress to look for a certain number of jobs or work a certain number of hours can put more of a strain on an individual and make their health conditions worse.
If there was an option of allowing people with disabilities to look for work at their own pace without a certain number being placed on the individual then I feel that more people would be accessing DES. If DES were equipped to help people with disabilities to find suitable jobs, without using a carrot and stick approach, then I think more people with disabilities would be accessing employment within the community.

Employer and Community Attitudes
As discussed in the Consultation Paper, attitudes within the community and employers need to change. Every single one of my jobs I have faced discrimination. I have been told that because I’m ‘slower’ than normal people, I should be working unpaid overtime. I wasn’t slow at my job by any means; they had put a full-time job in part-time hours.
I have been yelled at because I didn’t transfer a phone call to my manager, because she was on the telephone. I was told to leave my job over this incident. I have been overlooked for pay increases because she is the one with the disability. I have tried starting my own business as a source of income, but once my clients found out I had a disability, they did not want to proceed with the work I was asked to do. This happened over and over again, till I folded the business.

In my opinion the Federal Government can and should do a lot more to be helping people with disabilities into employment.
1. I agree with the consultation paper that their needs to be a shift in employer and community attitudes about employing people with disabilities.
2. For some people with certain conditions, Centrelink should not put quotas on the number of jobs or hours a person must work, but allow them to access DES so they can be assisted at finding a job in their own time and without putting added strain on the individual, which will be a detriment to their health.
3. DES should be set up to help people with qualifications to find suitable jobs.
4. The NDIA should reassess their own recruitment processes to allow people with disabilities to work part-time hours. I think the APS, particularly the NDIA should be leading by example and making it easier to employ people with disabilities.