As this month’s International Day of People with Disability shines a spotlight on the need for inclusion in the workplace, North Shore Living showcases some of the local organisations that are already supporting those with disability to join the world of work.

Boosting employment opportunities for the 4.4 million Australians living with disability is the aim of this month’s International Day of People with Disability. The independence, friendships and confidence gained from taking that first foray into the workplace is a rite of passage everyone deserves, and a host of organisations across the area are already shooting for the stars to make that happen.

Cut: Kickstarting awareness and inclusivity and, in turn,

In Chatswood, APM Employment Services is busy connecting people with disability with local employers, via job search support, assistance with resume writing, interview coaching and uniform costs, plus work placements or training opportunities for school leavers. “We know what employers are looking for and can help to prepare applicants for a new job,” APM NSW state manager Ryan Sullivan tells North Shore Living. “There are so many benefits to joining the workforce for a person with a disability, such as social inclusion, broadening networks, earning a wage and ensuring lived experience can be shared with the wider community,” he adds. Understanding is the name of the game as a ‘person with disability is the best driver in determining their training needs,’ says Ryan. He encourages employers to ‘take the time’ to understand each client’s skills and experiences, as well as the work environment and if any modifications are needed.

Supporting local businesses through the process of employing people with disability is something Ryan feels strongly about, stating that it benefits both sides. “It not only promotes diversity and inclusivity, but allows a business to relate to its customers in a tangible way. Further, employees with a disability have proven to be extremely loyal, have lower turnover and less time off than other workers,” he says.

Shifting the ‘puzzled’ perception many businesses have regarding people with disability, is North Sydney-based social enterprise, Jigsaw. Clients progress through its academy training curriculum – boasting ‘soft skills’ including focus, problem solving and accountability – to contract jobs with linked employers. Client Heather, who has cerebral palsy, says: “I use crutches and I often had people who had dealt with me on the phone look at me, as it was clear I was not what they were expecting. You could see this moment where their brains went, ‘oh,’ and it was a visible recalibration.” After six months of training, Heather landed a paid contract role at Australian Unity, where she processes health insurance claims. “They knew they were going to be dealing with a person with a disability and that I might need to do things a bit differently, so they put time aside to train me. They know I’m capable of it with the right support, and the support I’ve needed has become less and less,” she adds.

Ougeoni Wheldon, APM Employment Services

Ougeoni has been living with a learning disability all of her life. She is extremely passionate about working however, her disability made getting a job very tough.

She was looking for work and going for trials but was not successful. Employers required her to be fast, but her disability was a hurdle.

Ougeoni’s barrier is that it is difficult for her to learn new skills, so she was struggling to find the right job and the right employer.

Ougeoni joined APM Employment Services in May and met her consultant Gunjan who helped her navigate through various jobs that she felt were a good fit. Gunjan mentored Ougeoni and coached her to be job ready and arranged several interviews and work trials with employers. After several attempts, Gunjan arranged an interview for a café role that led to Ougeoni gaining sustainable and suitable employment.

Ougeoni has been working at Shore Shots Café since August, and absolutely loves working there. Her boss David Hillsmith and the entire team treat her like family. “They do not look at me any differently because of my disability,” Ougeoni says.

Ougeoni is very happy in her role and believes that her confidence level has increased immensely. She takes the train to work, which she did not think she could do. She is now an independent person and takes pride in her job. Ougeoni says: “I can safely say that it is the best job I have ever had.”

While 80 per cent of Australians of working age are employed, just 48 per cent of people with s disability can say the same, the Australian Bureau of Statistics finds. Across Greater Sydney, 270,665 people – 5.2 per cent – require help in their everyday lives due to ‘severe or profound disability,’ ID Informed Decisions found. This figure sparked a slew of planned improvements via the new federal Disability Services and Inclusion Bill 2023. Pending passage through Parliament, the bill will ensure ‘more responsive’ Commonwealth-funded services for people with disability outside the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), to encourage ‘independence and participation’ in the community and workforce. “This will help to bring legislation for all people with disability into the 21st century,” Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth says.

The North Ryde-based non-profit, OCTEC Employment, has been helping people with disability find suitable and sustainable work for over 40 years. OCTEC’s Ranjana Dhakal tells North Shore Living: “We help with job applications, clothing assistance and the transition into work, as well as offering any guidance needed as regards counsellors, social workers and occupational therapists.” Day-to-day support such as travelling to work companions and accompanying clients on their first day of a new job to minimise anxiety is also on offer. “We completely support the participant and let them know they are not alone and they can find employment and in doing so, change their lives,” Ranjana adds.

“The Disability Services and Inclusion Bill will help to bring legislation for all people with disability into the 21st Century.” Amanda Rishworth, minister for Social Services

Nationally, the Federal Government is ‘committed’ to boosting the number of public sector roles held by those with disability, to 5.6 per cent by 2025. This would be double that of the 2.8 per cent recorded in 2016 and will occur via ‘meaningful opportunities’ and ‘accessible workplaces’. Minister Rishworth believes that the International Day of People with Disability will help promote this to the business community by ‘raising the profile’ of disability via eleven official ambassadors, including gold medal-winning shotput athlete and Down Syndrome advocate, Hugo Taheny. The Government’s JobAccess service offers workplace adjustment advice including job role redesign, while the employment assistance fund provides financial help to those living with disability and mental health conditions – and their employers – to purchase equipment and access support services to ensure the workplace is open to all.

Unlocking the world of work for as many people with disability as possible can only be done if the barriers of perception and physical accessibility begin to crumble. The International Day of People with Disability will shine a spotlight, but it is the ongoing conversation with the local community that will make this rite of passage and the untold benefits a reality. As Jigsaw client Heather, says: “People with disabilities are often infantilised, so having access to work and training means the world, because a job is part of your identity and how you perceive yourself.”


By Catherine Lewis