Awkward silences, a fear of losing customers, and paid work suddenly becoming voluntary.
Ben has experienced it all as he battled the stigma of disability when looking for work.
Even if he impressed would-be employers over the phone, Ben would find the enthusiasm over his candidacy would disappear when he arrived at a potential workplace for an in-person interview.
Ben, who is blind, is one of many people with disability who face incredible challenges when looking for a career or employment opportunity.
The 39-year-old pottery teacher has now shared his experiences in an open letter to employers as part of APM’s #DearFutureBoss campaign.
The campaign invites people with disability, their family, friends, carers, peers and employers, to create and post a message on social media describing the future workplaces they want to see.
By highlighting his experience Ben is hoping more organisations will see the steps they can take to be more inclusive of people with disability and enjoy the benefits of hiring a diverse team.
Read Ben’s full letter below.
Dear Future Boss,
My name is Ben, I am a 39-year-old creative who happens to be legally blind.
My current journey begins at age six when diagnosed with cranial cancer.
During the three trying years that followed my family and I experienced immense generosity and compassion from our local community.
So, when I was given the all clear at age nine, I expected to be welcomed back at my old school to pick up where I had more or less left off.
It was a rude awakening when the school board refused my reenrolment as it was felt my return would be detrimental to the health, cancer perceived to be contagious, and educational progress of students due to my additional needs.
Societal perceptions such of these followed me throughout my youth and into my adult life.
I’ve lost count of the number of phone interviews I accede at and then only to walk into the face-to-face meeting, Guide Dog in tow, to be met with dead silence and an awkward interview.
One employer in particular captured the overall outlook best;
“I’d like to put you on, but I have to consider liability costs and anyway… what would my customers think if they saw someone like you working for me…”
Ironically, I was offered voluntary roles by many of these employers in which I performed similar tasks without pay in the hope that the position would become paid work once my capacity had been proven.
I would remain positive, “The next time will be different!”
But after a while it does have an impact on your confidence, your self-worth and eventually I began to skip interviews as I simply wasn’t able to face yet another rejection.
Doom and gloom huh?
Well, I haven’t held back on my experiences during that period as it better highlights the progress that has occurred over the past decade or so.
Yes, there are still a lot of societal prejudices and stigma at play, but these are diminishing through affirmative education, radially accessible media/data, and government incentives.
Disability and neurological divergence are no longer terms to be discussed behind closed doors, the benefits of a diverse workforce, and the life experience acquired therein, is becoming more widely accepted.
This being said, unfortunately rural Australia still falls short when compared to our city-based counterparts.
There is a continued reluctance to embrace a progressive outlook, a dismissal of potential benefits and a desire to hold onto traditional practices.
In my opinion the foremost issue continues to be a lack of knowledge.
There are numerous initiatives put into action only to be left to fizzle when left in the care of individuals/organisations ill prepared to take on the role or government incentives/funding unutilised, lost within documentation; made overly complicated.
During my time as a member of a Disability Advisory Committee I was continuously dismayed as important recommendations were eagerly taken note of only to have most, if not all, omitted from the final plan even though the recommendations were inexpensive and beneficial to the entire community.
There needs to be a shift in the manner in which local, state, and Federal government representatives perceive and include individuals who have a disability in the future planning of Australia.
A dialog has been opened but without continued progressive and cohesive planning, implementation of infrastructure for holistic access and inclusion, legislation to ensure future construction and town layouts adhere to an inclusive benchmark.
The benefits of including individuals who have a disability within the workforce are severely impacted.
Communication, education, and infrastructure are key in moving forward as a unified and holistic nation.
Share your message
Join the #DearFutureBoss campaign by posting a short video message, text or a photo of your open letter on social media with the tag #DearFutureBoss.
Learn more about the campaign at apm.net.au/dearfutureboss.