People with vision impairment are an under-tapped resource for employers.
Are you hiring the best person for the job or are you buying into the negative myths about employing people with disabilities?
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT says simple misconceptions are contributing to an unemployment rate for people with vision impairment that’s more than six times the national average.
The most common myths are:
- People with vision loss can’t work on a computer or read emails.
- People with vision loss can’t work independently and are slow to complete tasks.
- Employers will have to buy expensive new computer hardware and software.
- Employers will have to make major changes to their office layout.
- Employers think there will be greater health and safety risks for their business.
- People with vision impairment aren’t able travel to work independently or find their way around the office safely.
Have cane, am able to work’, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s new employer awareness campaign, aims to increase the number of people in the workforce with vision loss. Inclusion and diversity is increasing at organisations such as Westpac, Telstra, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, IBM, ANZ and Microsoft, via their disability action plans.
Case study: Banking on skills
Majella Knobel (pictured) has worked for Westpac, a 2013 winner of the AHRI LGBTI Inclusion and Diversity Award and a finalist for both AHRI’s 2014 Indigenous and disability employment awards, for six years. She was taken on under the bank’s graduate program and is currently a service manager.
Her vision is impaired due to ongoing health issues, but a long cane and orientation training enable her to get to, from and around work safely and on her own.
Before joining the bank, Knobel found it difficult to secure permanent full-time employment. She has a degree in criminology, and her CV would land her an interview, but she wouldn’t progress. She was often told she was the second choice.
“Having a job means independence,” she says. “Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy a weekend skiing at Perisher or a week recently on the Gold Coast. Like anyone, if I don’t have money, I don’t have options.”
Knobel chairs the Westpac employee action group Assisting Better Lives for Everyone (ABLE). It’s a network of employees who volunteer as advocates for people with disability, working to make positive change for customers, employees and the wider community.
“Majella is a great example of focusing on somebody’s ability and offering an opportunity to have a rich and rewarding career,” says Westpac Group diversity and flexibility manager Grazia Pecoraro. “With an estimated 12.1 per cent of employees at Westpac having a disability – one of the highest disclosure rates in corporate Australia – we’re committed to increasing the participation of Australians with a disability in employment and business, said Pecoraro.”
Westpac welcomes Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s orientation and mobility instructors into its buildings to train vision-impaired people in how to access the workplace.
Knobel’s advice to HR practitioners who have a job candidate with vision impairment is “look beyond the disability and embrace their skillset”. Think outside the norm, she says, and be open to considering how the role could be performed in an alternative way.
Vision impairment statistics at a glance
- An estimated 300,000 people in Australia have uncorrectable vision loss*.
- 45 per cent of Australians with disabilities are living in poverty**.
- 37 per cent of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s clients of working age are unemployed, and 91 per cent of these clients want a job – indicating an untapped workforce.
*Access Economics. **OECD report.