Off to work we go. Or do we?

A man holding a boarding pass in his hand along with a bag. You can see the airport in the background.Travelling to work is one thing. Travelling for work is another.  A recent study of Australian university staff who travel for work revealed common difficulties. All participants reported that their disability, whether declared or not, affected their ability to undertake work-based travel. Some of their necessary compromises involved extra cost at their own expense. 

There are four things that make travelling for work difficult for people with disability. They are the way the current system is designed, stigma and victimisation, self reliance and asking for help. And of course, double the effort that anyone else takes for an event-free journey. These factors also apply to the tourism sector. That’s because academics who frequently travel for work might extend their stay for a short vacation. They might take their family too.

The university travel booking service on campus often asked participants to seek additional information themselves. This was not seen as part of the service. One participant found it easier to bypass the system and do their own bookings even though they had to foot the bill. Potentially, the system isn’t smooth sailing for others either.

Another participant was told by a supervisor they couldn’t be an academic if it meant travelling overseas. Booking travel also meant revealing a previously hidden disability. This is a tricky area. Other articles have revealed the reticence to declare a disability for fear of discrimination and disbelief

The article, Negotiating work-based travel for people with disabilities, has some recommendations. They are applicable for workplaces and tourism operators alike.  You will need institutional access for a free read or contact the authors at The University of Queensland.

Abstract: In an ideal world, inclusive travel services would value each person, support full participation and seek to embrace the similarities, as well as the differences, to be found in society. Anecdotally at least, it seems the unspoken truth for many individuals with a disability is that efforts to engage in any form of travel are often thwarted by poor service provision, systemic bias and discrimination. Using an inductive line of inquiry, this Australian study sought to detail how staff with a disability in the higher education sector negotiated their work-related travel responsibilities. Findings revealed that many felt compromised by current systems and practices with many required to go ‘above and beyond’ that expected of their work colleagues. The results of the research project serve to inform employers about the often unvoiced challenges employees with disabilities face when meeting work-based travel expectations. The findings also contribute directly to the transformative service research agenda by offering clear insight into how the travel and hospitality industry might be more inclusive of employees travelling for work-based purposes to the benefit of all parties.

Can the construction industry be inclusive?

Two construction men sitting at a table look at a complex engineering diagram.There’s an assumption that you can’t be a construction worker if you have a disability. So it’s no use recruiting them. Yet this industry has its fair share of permanently injured workers. Many access consultants also have a disability, so the assumption doesn’t hold.

At last someone has joined the dots in The Fifth Estate article, Yes, wheelchair users can work in construction. Working in construction is not all about climbing ladders and working in confined spaces, says Jonathan Fritsch. The article is about seeing the opportunities for people with disability. The construction industry employs over one million people. There are many jobs that don’t require ladders and heavy lifting. And not every role is onsite. But like most recruiting companies, they place people with disability at the bottom of the employability scale. 

Employing people with disability within the industry should now be an imperative. The NDIS has brought the lack of accessible housing and public buildings to the fore. Including people with disabilities of all types seems to be a no-brainer now.

The full title of the article by Jonathan Fritsch is, Yes, wheelchair users can work in construction. Let’s see this as an opportunity.  

 

The Age of Workplace Inclusion

A maroon background with the words, Welcome to the age of inclusion in white lettering.What’s inclusion about? It’s about us – all of us. Policy talk about inclusion could lead us to believe we are in the Age of Inclusion. But is it actually happening or is it just words? Although people agree inclusion is a good thing, making it happen is another story. The public sector has got to grips with the issues and is guiding the way with the Age of Inclusion Champion’s Kit. The emphasis is on “US” in inclUSion. 

The online Kit comes in sections: Learning about disability, Making the workplace accessible, and How to lead change in the workplace. The Hiring Manager’s Toolkit covers the recruitment process and helping new staff get started. There’s also a section on anti-discrimination laws that every manager should know. 

The Age of Inclusion Champion’s Kit has five key elements, one of which is the role of social media:

    1. Sharing The Age of Inclusion Campaign with your networks
    2. Showing your support on your digital and social channels
    3. Promoting Inclusive Recruitment and Career Pathways on social media
    4. Promoting Inclusive Work Cultures on social media
    5. Promote Accessible Workplaces on social media

Kit also has links to videos with and without audio description, and pro forma social media posts. 

 

Discrimination, Inclusion and Work

A man with grey hair is walking on grass and using a powered grass whipper snipper.Participation of older people in the workforce is the topic of ongoing policy debate. Working longer seems a simple answer to population ageing. However, stories abound about employers discriminating against people over the age of 50 years. But is this the only group to face workplace discrimination and exclusion?

Rethinking Advocacy on Ageing and Work challenges the notion that only older people experience discrimination in the workplace. Philip Taylor highlights the policy contradictions about work across the age spectrum. He asks whether working longer is a reasonable proposition for both employees and employers. He also critiques the Human Rights Commission’s Willing to Work report as too narrowly focused. After all, ageism doesn’t just apply to older Australians. A longer version of this paper was published by Per Capita. 

Taylor’s paper is one from a set of conference papers focused on discrimination and employment. They include: 

From jobless to job ready outlines a collaborative model of preparing people for work. Case studies illustrate that tailored education programs and collaborating with local industries achieves productive outcomes. This is especially important where poverty is a factor.

Breaking Through Barriers to Assist Young People who are Blind or have Low vision has micro case studies to illustrate Vision Australia’s project. It gives an overview of how employment barriers were overcome so that participants achieved their goals.

Enhancing Inclusivity at Work Through Mindfulness takes the discussion beyond gender, culture, age or sexual preference. It asks us to think about the every day judgements we make about other people. It’s these judgements that make true inclusion a huge challenge.

 

Returning to work with universal design

A modern office with lots of space and workstations by windows.Returning to work post-pandemic might be a bit scary. A useful article addressing the psycho-social issues discusses universal design as a wellbeing solution. That is, to place equal weight on the wellbeing of all employees.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Bonnie Sanborn argues that universal design principles increase employees’ perception of being valued at work. For example, adjustable workstations and social spaces with easy access for all employees. Being able to freely express concerns and ideas without fear of reprisals gives a sense of psychological safety.

Suggestions include creating layouts where all employees have equal access to the best views. This might mean allocating this space as a common area. A blanket standard for ergonomic features on furnishing might sound equal but doesn’t cater for differing needs. Giving people the right tools and equipment for the job shows the boss understands the nature of their job. 

The article, The Psychology of Returning to the Office: How Design Helps, discusses these factors and more. There is a reference list at the end.

 

Ageing and work: debunking the myths

Two men are working on a construction site. One is holding a circular saw which has just cut through a large timber board.Age discrimination is illegal in Australia, but when it comes to employment things get tricky. And then there is the question of the government wanting people to work to a later age. However, what are the real facts on this issue? Philip Taylor is a researcher in this field and challenges the many long-held notions about older people and employment. He lists eight myths in a summary of an article for the Diversity Council of Australia

Myth 1. Age discrimination towards older workers is endemic. Reality: Age discrimination is potentially faced by all workers.

Myth 2: Different generations have different orientations to work. Reality: It is employee life stage (e.g. school leaver, working parent, graduating to retirement) that makes a big difference – not generation.

Myth 3: Older people are an homogeneous group. Reality: Older and younger people have intersectional parts of their identity which impacts on how they experience inclusion at work.

Myth 4: Older workers outperform younger ones in terms of their reliability, loyalty, work ethic and life experience. Reality: Performance is not linked to age – except in very rare circumstances.

Myth 5: Older people have a lifetime of experience that managers should recognise. Reality: Relevant experience, is more valuable than experience, of itself.

Myth 6: Younger workers are more dynamic, entrepreneurial, and tech savvy than older workers. Reality: Older people have a lot to offer the modern workplace.

Myth 7: Younger workers feel entitled and won’t stick around. Reality: Younger workers are more likely to be in insecure employment and to experience unemployment. 

Myth 8: Older people who stay on at work are taking jobs from younger people. Reality: Increasing the employment of older workers does not harm and may even benefit, younger people’s employment prospects.

The title of the article on the Diversity Council website is, Myth Busting Age Discrimination at Work. You will have to sign in for the full paper. 

The summary is titled, What are the myths (and facts) on ageing and work? and you can find out a little more about the myths listed above.

You might be interested in a related article on including people with disability in the workplace – it’s a lot easier than most people think. 

 

Inclusive Towns: business, tourism and employment

A multicoloured logo of overlapping circles.The Inclusive Towns project is about increasing the participation and inclusion of people with disability. It presents the arguments heard before about missing out on potential business by ignoring this group and their fellow travellers. What makes this project different is help with employment of people with disability. The project produced a website with four key guides:

Links to many other helpful resources are included on this website including one on accessible events.

The project is a partnership between the City of Greater Bendigo, Loddon Shire & Mount Alexander Shire in Victoria. It was funded by the NDIS. 

A wheelchair user enters the frame on the left hand side. The background is a blurred out cafe setting.

Designing inclusive surveys

Picture of a hand holding a pen and filling in boxes on a survey formWe all know that no matter how objective we try to be, biases exist. Researchers try to avoid them when they design surveys. But it isn’t easy as bias is by nature invisible to the owner. So a bit of help is handy. Using a screening survey to hire people can disadvantage people from diverse backgrounds for several reasons. Most researchers know the usual pitfalls, but perhaps not those relating to ethnic diversity and cognitive differences. Or for people with disability. A really helpful part of this short article is the reference list. Here are just two items:

A Catalog of Biases in Questionnaires includes sources of bias, issues with questionnaire design, and problems with wording, language use, and formatting, plus more. There’s lots of examples too. By Choi, B. C., & Pak, A. W. (2005)

Another good one is about integrating universal design into questionnaires. The focus is on people with learning disabilities. Of course, this also suits people who find reading English as a second language difficult as well. So the authors recommend that instead of making accommodations for people with learning disabilities, the questionnaire should be designed to suit all participants. Lots of good information here. By Goegan, et al, (2018). 

The title of the article is,  Removing Bias from a Hiring Survey for a Diverse Applicant Pool.  

 

Hidden Talent: Autism at Work

A man stands with his back to the camera and is looking at lots of pieces of paper pinned to a whiteboard.You’re missing out by not hiring staff with autism. This is one of the points made in a FastCo article, about the ways to support staff with autism. It’s possible you already work with them now, but neither of you know. Common behaviours are social ineptness, lack of eye contact and blunt remarks. Sound familiar? The article gives a brief overview of some of the diverse ways autism presents. Many people with autism can focus for long time on a topic – if it interests them. Attention to detail and pattern recognition skills are often well used in technical occupations. Some have unique ways of viewing situations and can bring great insights to problem solving.

The article lists some of the ways to accommodate employees with autism, such as reducing environmental stimuli. Clear communication that doesn’t rely on social cues or facial expression are also recommended (isn’t this good for everyone?) The title of the article is, You’re missing out by not hiring autistic workers. It originally appeared in The Conversation.

See the Harvard Business Review article, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage. The Sydney Morning Herald has an article on autism and academia – Autism, a neurotype not an insult.  

 

Diversity, Disability and Disbelief

A young man stands between library book shelves. He has a large book open in his hands.Requiring accommodations for inclusion can be an invasive process. When the disability isn’t obvious, disbelief by others becomes another barrier to inclusion. So just owning up and spelling out what you need is painful enough, but then not to be believed is the final straw. If you have a mental illness this can be devastating. A personal story by a library employee highlights how attitudes are just as important as any physical or workplace accommodations people might need. The title of the article is, The Impact of Disbelief: On Being a Library Employee with a Disability.

Abstract:  As a library employee with a hidden disability (post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]), just going through the accommodation process is difficult. The process is invasive and includes an in-depth interview with a disability specialist who knows nothing about you. The process also requires a letter from a care provider detailing both the accommodation and why it is necessary. In order to get an accommodation, the person must first be diagnosed by a medical professional or a psychiatrist, which is often expensive and time-consuming to obtain. The process is made more difficult and painful when supervisors and administrators do not recognize the validity of the condition for which the accommodation is needed. This paper explores the accommodation process, its impact on the employee, and the politics and psychology of disbelief and suspicion surrounding disability accommodation. Through the lens of personal experience and reflection, I will explore how the library, while a place of learning and advocacy for knowledge, can also be a place of ableist views that limit the abilities and potential of employees with disabilities. I will also provide guidelines for combating ableism in the library workplace.

There is a companion article Disability, the Silent D in Diversity, which gives the library experience of wanting to have diversity, but not wanting it to be too difficult.