A parliamentary event, hosted by Vision 2020 Australia, has underscored the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion. The Parliamentary Friends Group Eye Health and Vision Care Dinner on Employment, disability and inclusive workplaces was held to advocate for increased representation of people with a disability in the workforce, particularly people who are blind or have low vision.
The event was co-hosted at Parliament House in Canberra, by Mr. Andrew Laming MP, Chair of Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training and the Hon. Amanda Rishworth MP, Shadow Minister for Early Education and Development. It was supported by Vision 2020’s key members, Blind Citizens Australia, Guide Dogs Victoria and Vision Australia.
Vision 2020 Australia Board Chair and former Senator the Hon. Amanda Vanstone opened proceedings by encouraging the Government, employers and community to work together to reduce barriers for people who are blind or have low vision from participating in the workforce. Ms. Vanstone was followed by an esteemed line up of speakers, covering a broad spectrum of perspectives on the issue of disability and employment.
Economic Benefits of Workplace Inclusion
The Hon. Jane Prentice MP, the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services, spoke on behalf of the current government, reinforcing the economic benefits of workplace inclusion. She emphasised that every individual should be afforded the right to work.
Senator Carol Brown Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers conveyed a sense of joint responsibility through her address, indicating that the challenge for providing employment opportunities for people with a disability must be taken up by all employers, including government and business.
She emphasised that every individual should be afforded the right to work
Tangible Actions, Practical Strategies Required
The keynote address for this event was delivered by Alastair McEwin Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner. Mr McEwin encouraged a shift away from theoretical discussions about diversity and inclusion, and instead asked for renewed focus on tangible actions and practical strategies employers need to implement in order to remove barriers for people with disabilities in the workplace.
Mr. McEwin encouraged employer flexibility to support the needs of people with a disability. When seeking a job as a judge’s associate Mr. McEwin was told many times he could not do the job, until he met a judge who asked “How can we make this work?” Mr. McEwin emphasised that employers must think about inclusion and make reasonable adjustments to support employment of people with a disability. This is essential to develop a culture of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
The event was capped off by gough, the founder and company director of Beernuts Productions. gough, was the first legally blind person to write, produce, edit, direct and star in a full-length feature film. He presented his personal story on the barriers he faced on his path to becoming a business owner, some of which included consistently being told “I don’t think this job is really for you.” gough realised that the only way he would be able to achieve his goal of working in film and television was if he started up his own production business. Since then he has released 13 short film projects, written and produced eight audio downloads and written five books.
Closing the night’s events was Vision 2020 Australia CEO Carla Northam. The audience was asked to focus on taking the next steps to create inclusive workplaces for people who are blind or have low vision. Each attendee was asked to assess their personal commitment to workplace diversity and inclusion by answering three questions:
1. What can I do in my workplace to make it more accessible for all workers?
2. Does my organisation have a diversity policy?
3. Do we employ people with a disability?