Blog written by Rachel Froggatt, Commercial and Marketing Director, Paralympics New Zealand
Last week, I had the privilege of attending the first ‘Employing People with Disabilities’ Seminar staged jointly by our partners, Adecco New Zealand and ACC. Over 100 Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion leaders from across New Zealand gathered to hear insights from a great variety of speakers.
A stand-out for me was Selwyn Cook from Z Energy Waikato, a previous winner of ACC Employer of the Year at the Attitude Awards. He spoke frankly about coming to terms with his own biases around disability and told stories from the forecourts of his service stations, successfully operated across Hamilton. Over the course of his many years in fuel retailing, he employed multiple disabled people across a variety of roles including forecourt concierge, executive assistant and Health & Safety Officer. In talking about the latter, he pointed out – causing a lightbulb moment for many in the audience – that disabled people are not a health and safety risk, they themselves deal with health and safety risks in getting through everyday life, something that makes them experts in the field.
Another stand-out speaker was Economist Shamubeel Eaqub. He spoke bluntly about the need for employers to deliberately change their attitudes toward disabled people, as the labour market will only continue to shrink given dropping birth rates and the aging population. His facts and statistics on the matter caused a great flurry of movement, as the audience quickly jotted down notes to take back to the office.
Athens 2004 Paralympic gold medallist, Wheelchair rugby player Tim Johnson spoke about this journey since a car accident, age 19. Following job rejections into the double figures, his first professional role following collection of a degree in engineering was a 3-month probationary role, unpaid, to see how he would “cope in the workplace”. Tim, a tetraplegic, only needs minor adaptations to his workstation to accommodate for reduced mobility. After two weeks he was offered the role full time and has now been with ACC for 10 years as a senior project leader.
Paralympics New Zealand’s very own Ian Sargeant (Commercial Partnerships Manager) gave an excellent speech around the global Adecco Athlete Careers Programme (ACP), which has placed quite a number of kiwi Paralympians and Para athletes into work. He talked about how our Paralympians positively influence community perceptions of disability through their performances on the world stage, thus challenging biases in other areas of life, from employment to social inclusion. Rio 2016 Paralympic gold medallist Nikita Howarth is a Para athlete going through this process herself. She attended the seminar and proved very popular during the breaks, as attendees talked to her about her experiences.
The most recent 2013 Disability Survey returned great insights, with one such insight being that over 74% of unemployed disabled people in New Zealand would work if given the opportunity and only 14% state an adaptation would be needed to their workplace, for example larger type on screens or voice software.
Many congratulations to Mike Davies and Tracy Smith at Adecco New Zealand and Tanya Colvin at ACC for pushing forward with this initiative, with the support of such influential brands we hope to set New Zealand on a pathway to better inclusion of disabled people in employment.