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 last 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. And that people are more than their diagnosis. 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 last night’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’ is a challenge for everyone, but particularly those responsible for hiring.
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To give people with disability a chance to prove themselves in the workplace, we must constantly question our definition of a ‘good employee’. We must be honest with prejudices and judgements that we may not even know exist within us. And we must ensure we’re not limiting our chances of getting the best person for the job due to incorrect associations of what having a disability means.
It was encouraging to see these themes begin to be explored with a number of employers in last night’s episode.
When Tim met with software testing company Xceptional, a traditional interview was replaced with a number of skill-testing activities and tasks to test Tim instead. The business recognised that Tim would not have flourished in a face-to-face question and answer style setting, and instead adjusted the forum to allow him to show his strengths.
“With software testing, most of the work is at a computer and it’s really not a whole lot of interpersonal skills. That’s why we’re doing away with the job interview”, said Mike from Xceptional during the episode.
As such, Tim was able to demonstrate his ability to think quickly, solve problems, identify algorithms and be creative. He was successful in joining the Xceptional team and was supported with flexible working arrangements from home. And I must add, seeing Tim’s smile upon being offered his first ever job was one of the most memorable moments of the episode.
In addition to adjusting interview structures, it’s important that people with disability are empowered to communicate barriers they may face in the workplace. In last night’s episode, it was Tim’s brother that explained to a prospective employer that Tim gets distressed by whistling and people touching him. Tim didn’t feel capable of communicating these issues to future employers.
While it was great that Tim’s brother was able to accompany him and act as his advocate, this isn’t always possible. And that’s where it’s important to lean on organisations like EPIC, who act as an important bridge between job seekers and prospective employers.
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.