Program for people with disabilities shows what can happen when barriers to employment are removed

Ashley Harris was very excited to enter the workforce, but faced many hurdles along the way.

“I can find roles that I can do physically, but the problem is that when I come to an interview because of my myoclonus and my Tourette’s disease, my interview performance is very poor,” said said Mr. Harris.

“If anyone knows anything about the Tourette, if you try to fight the noises, the jerks – or whatever is specific to you – that makes you want to do it more.”

Now in his 40s, Mr Harris recently got a job as an elderly social worker.

He was one of eight trainees who took part in the Road to Employment scheme run by Adelaide-based disability advocacy organization JFA Purple Orange.

The program aims to connect people with disabilities to meaningful employment.

Mr Harris said people with disabilities were major assets to industries like the aged care sector.

“We’ve been through a lot more hardship and discrimination in many ways and we often have that kind of extra empathy,” he said.

Access to independence

Fellow trainee Ben Hondow completed his studies in 2020 and said finding a job and having a paid internship in elderly care gave him his independence.

“It’s been so much more encouraging than school because at least people can understand what autistic people and people [with a disability] going through these days,” Mr. Hondow said.

“I’ve never had my own car… I bought myself a little green Mazda 2 car – it takes me from A to B.”

Ben Hondow says his employer has been more supportive than his school.(ABC News: Evelyn Leckie)

Amber Aged Care in North East Adelaide is one of the facilities participating in the scheme.

Chief Executive Dominique Evele said she herself faced barriers to employment.

“Being born with a congenital disability – and always feeling that everyone should have the opportunity to work – when the opportunity arose to be part of this project, it touched me,” said Ms Evele.

“I wanted to make sure we could support the interns and that once they were done we could employ them in the future.”

A woman with blonde hair wearing a black dress
Amber Aged Care’s chief executive, Dominique Evele, said she also struggled to find a job because of her disability.(Provided)

The Royal Commission on Disability heard that 53 per cent of disabled people of working age were unemployed in 2018.

Tracey Wallace, head of policy and research at JFA Purple Orange, said the program aims to tackle unemployment and underemployment rates for people with disabilities.

“Some of our trainees have never had a job before – some have been unemployed for over five years – so this has given them a break into the industry,” Ms Wallace said.

“At the end of the day, our endgame is that we don’t even need separate programs to be able to give people with disabilities a chance in the workforce.”

A woman with brown hair wearing a gray blazer and a black top in a park
Tracey Wallace of JFA Purple Orange says the goal is not to need the Road to Employment program.

Comments are closed.