Through the Disability Inclusion Practice, we can link businesses with disability inclusion consultants who have a lived experience of disability. We asked four experienced practitioners about what businesses can do to make their spaces and resources more accessible for all.
Nas Campanella is a journalist and newsreader with the ABC and triple j. Nas was the first blind newsreader in the world to read and operate the studio for herself live to air. She travels the world to inform, inspire and advocate about topics such as inclusive education, adaptive technology and accessible travel.
Ben Clare has worked in the disability sector for many years, including more than 10 years in Pacific island countries. Ben was recently elected as Pacific Chairperson for the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment. Ben believes disability is a state of mind and that barriers put up by others prevent people from achieving their dreams.
Caroline Conlon was born deaf to hearing parents. During her early twenties, she discovered the Deaf community and sign language. She entered the Australian Theatre of the Deaf as an actor and later became Artistic Director. She has delivered capacity building training to Deaf communities in Western and Central Africa and has volunteered in Pacific island countries.
Chris Kerr has over 30 years’ experience in service delivery and policy work. She works as a Producer at the ABC and is Operations Manager of a recreation inclusion organisation. She has had long-term involvement in the disability, labour market and TAFE sectors with a focus on human rights, social inclusion and disability inclusive development.
What are some barriers you might expect to encounter in an Australian office that hasn’t employed a person with a disability before?
Nas Physical barriers within the workplace might be lack of ramps for people in wheelchairs, no accessible bathrooms, or the absence of tactile markers at the top and bottom of stairs for people with vision impairments.
Ben A lot of barriers associated with employing someone with disability are often imagined, don’t exist or can be overcome much more simply and cheaply than an employer first thought. People are often surprised at how simple it is to fully integrate someone with disability into existing structures in employment settings.
Caroline The primary barrier for a deaf or hard of hearing employee is communication with co-workers and colleagues. For those who communicate in Auslan, organisations have a responsibility to provide sign language interpreters where required, especially at inductions and meetings. A desk situated near a wall or a corner is not ideal when an individual cannot use their hearing to gauge general movements in the background.
Chris A sense of surprise and hesitation from other staff, usually due to management/HR doing the employing and not informing co-workers. I believe this is mainly due to lack of experience of having a co-worker with disability.
What are some of the difficulties you’ve experienced getting to and from work in an Australian setting? Is there anything others can do to make your journey smoother?
Caroline At railway stations, announcements and schedule or platform changes made through loudspeakers cause frustration and stress for commuters who are Deaf or hard of hearing. A practical solution is to deliver information in subtitle format on screens.
Chris Pathways of travel often present problems. Depending on the person’s disability requirements there are often a range of barriers and challenges associated with pathways of travel as much as there are with actual transport.
Ben For a person with vision impairment, intensive training from an orientation and mobility specialist may be necessary. This person is trained in recognising landmarks and other clues that can be useful for the low vision traveller when moving around solo. In the event that assistance is required, it is important to address the individual seeking assistance, but respect their wishes if they decline or if the assistance they require is less than what you envisage. Wheelchair users face their own challenges when it comes to accessing transport. It is often necessary to pre-plan journeys well in advance of travel and research accessible transport options.
Nas The best ways pedestrians can make my journey smoother is to put their phone away when walking through a crowded space and politely ask someone with a disability if they need help rather than assuming they do.
When you travel, either in Australia or overseas, what are some of the barriers you’ve encountered? How do you overcome these?
Nas I’ve had occasions where staff have tried to discourage me from taking part in various activities like rafting or hiking. I’ve always taken those situations as opportunities to teach people about my strengths and capabilities, which I hope helps to change their perspective. When traveling alone I pre-book private tours to ensure I don’t miss out on adventures. All of my travel documents are filed in a folder in the order of the places on my itinerary and labelled with tactile markers so I can identify them.
Ben In my personal experience as someone with low vision, the main barriers I have encountered in air travel are due to preconceived ideas about disability and ignorance of our abilities. All airlines operating in Australia are signatories to a document that clearly specifies how someone with disability should be treated when travelling solo.
Chris Depending on where you are travelling, the barriers vary. Mostly the barriers present in relation to toilet access, accessible accommodation, general community access (i.e. stairs, no lifts, no ramps) and accessible transport options.
What are three things businesses should prioritise to make their spaces and resources more accessible?
Caroline Businesses can start by using appropriate language pertaining to disabilities – avoiding terms like ‘the disabled’ and using ‘people with a disability’. Businesses should review their policies and service delivery strategies and seek consultation from disability groups to ensure their services/systems are accessible. As a person who faces barriers every day, I’ll always notice where access exists (for any disability) and think, ‘that’s cool’ – and I’ll more likely be a customer.
Nas Three key areas businesses should prioritise are digital accessibility, disability awareness training and increased investment in workplace modifications. One of the biggest problems is that mainstream society believes people with disabilities can’t work. Change the attitude and you’ll show employees the huge number of benefits that can come with creating a diverse workplace.
Ben Having a business’s headquarters fully accessible is beneficial for employees and customers alike. Having wheelchair accessible ramps into and throughout the building, disability bathrooms and elevators with Braille on the buttons can be very useful. Placing tactile maps on walls close to major intersections can greatly assist people who are blind or who have low vision.