Newcastle accountant Paul Gruppelaar is one of the faces fronting a campaign for Australian organisations to increase their employment of people with disabilities.
Mr Gruppelaar has worked at the King Street office of charity Life Without Barriers for the past seven years, and over his 40-year career has worked for the likes of Air New Zealand, City of Sydney, and Patrick Stevedores.
He said that while his disability rarely came up when looking for jobs in the latter half of his career, in the past potential employers had explicitly knocked him back from desk-based roles because of his mobility issues, caused by cerebral palsy.
"It's only been in the last 20 years I would say things have gotten better, workplaces more accessible and people more comfortable about discussing disability with me," he said.
"Discrimination used to be more overt but it still exists, unfortunately."
"It's about getting past what is obvious and really understanding what a person can bring to your organisation."Paul Gruppelaar
Mr Gruppelaar is one of the spokespeople for Life Without Barriers' campaign for Australian businesses and organisations to increase their employment of people with disabilities and improve inclusiveness and accessibility in the workplace.
The charity, which provides support services to people with disabilities, has pledged to double the percentage of its workforce with disabilities from four per cent to nine per cent by 2022, and is encouraging other Australian organisations to follow suit and set their own "ambitious targets".
Questions to ask your HR team
- What portion of our company's workforce is made up of people with disability?
- What steps have we taken as a business to increase the diversity of our workforce?
- What data are we collecting to record how many people with disability have applied for a job vs how many have secured a job?
- How do our current recruitment practices support diversity and inclusion?
- Do we use inclusive language in our job ads?
- Does the business strive to make itself accessible - in a variety of ways - to people with disability? How does it do this?
- Are we taking steps to actively increase demand for people with disability in our organisation?
The charity has released a toolkit for employers looking to change their recruitment and workplace practices to mark International Day of People with Disability, which is today.
Chief executive Claire Robbs said that, with only half of Australians with disabilities of working age in employment, it was crucial for employers to be honest about there own hiring practices.
"The unemployment rate for people with disability is completely unacceptable," Ms Robbs said.
"It's time for all of us to ask crucial questions of ourselves and address any unconscious bias we might have about employing someone with disability."
Mr Gruppelaar said he believed Australian workplaces were especially poor at utilising the skills and talents of people with disabilities that affected their communication with others.
"If someone cannot communicate verbally, they certainly write and maybe that's an opportunity," he said.
"It's about getting past what is obvious and really understanding what a person can bring to your organisation."
He said employers should not be nervous about asking new recruits what accommodations they needed to fully participate in the workplace.
"Ideally, the interview would be like any other interview. Once you know they can do the job, say 'We are interested in you, what can you tell us about what you think you might need to move this further?'" he said.
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