International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD) is an opportunity for us to challenge the way we think about disability, particularly in the workplace. On Wednesday 9 December, we will be discussing disability in the workplace at our fortnightly Manager Briefing. We will be joined by members of our Disability Services team who will be on hand to answer your questions. Be sure to submit your questions ahead of time by logging on to Slido and using the code #MHMB2020.
One in five people in Australia have some form of disability (18.4 per cent in Victoria), including 2.1 million Australians of working age. The Department of Health and Human Services says ‘the number of people with a disability in Victoria is increasing and is expected to continue to grow due to population growth, ageing and increased life expectancy.’ This means many of our patients and our colleagues have some form of disability.
At Monash Health, we work to ensure our organisation remains a welcoming and safe environment for all, regardless of how they move, think or talk. Disability is one of the focus areas in our Equity and Inclusion Strategy (2018-2023). We are working to ensure we acknowledge the diversity and richness our colleagues with disabilities bring to the workplace and continue to support an inclusive work environment.
In the lead up to IDPWD, we had the opportunity to speak to Luis Aguilar, Support Coordinator and Case Manager in Monash Health Community’s Disability Services, about the work he does to support people with disabilities and how he manages his own disability in the workplace. Luis is hard of hearing but wasn’t diagnosed until later in life.
Luis will be part of a panel discussing disability in the workplace at our Manager Briefing next Wednesday 9 December.
Luis’ emphasised that people with a disability are just as capable as anyone else. The strength of their diversity is apparent when he describes the way he advocates for his clients, and his ability to understand their needs.
“It is worth giving someone a chance. We have to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. People with disabilities have the ability to work. They are enriched, resilient people who bring something unique to the workplace,” says Luis.
Currently, Luis makes small adjustments to help him in his role such as using a good pair of noise cancelling headphones, carrying spare batteries for his hearing aids, and having spare headphones and a portable charger handy. As he is hearing impaired, Luis tends to speak loudly on the phone. For this reason, he works in his own corner in the office, still close to his colleagues, but not close enough as to disturb them when he is on the phone with clients. He also commented that conducting meetings on Webex, due to COVID-19 restrictions, has been somewhat challenging.
“I do struggle with meetings when having to take minutes and that is why I ask to record them. Jacinta, my manager, decided to take the minutes herself whenever I’m in a meeting, to ensure that I can focus on listening. I can then ask her questions if I didn’t understand something that I may have misheard. Especially during COVID-19, not being able to see people’s lips move makes it harder.”
Luis attributes some of his success in his role to having the full support of his manager and director. While his disability does impact his work at times, through minor adjustments and support from his manager, NDIS Program Manager Jacinta Sadler, he has been able to flourish in his role:
“Jacinta has been really supportive and helped me thrive. She understood my needs. It’s about giving people the tools they need to succeed – Jacinta has given me the tools I need.”
He encourages people with a disability to speak up about their needs in the workplace. When asked about whether he prefers people to acknowledge or avoid his disability at work, he says he likes to be upfront with people when the situation warrants it:
“I tend to tell people I am hard of hearing because I don’t want another incident where people think I’m rude when I don’t hear them or ignore them.”
This might stem from the incident which first prompted him to have his hearing checked:
“I was born in Mexico, in a low socioeconomic background where things such as a hearing disability were not a priority, therefore not acknowledged. After I moved to the USA, I started to wonder why I couldn’t hear little kids speak. I didn’t make much of it until one day a colleague of mine asked me ‘Are you deaf or just a rude %&*?’. I was shocked! Turns out, she called on me and I had just kept walking. That incident prompted me to go to the doctor and check my hearing. Turns out I was actually deaf from birth, although my husband will tell you I only hear what I want to hear!”
There is no doubt that Luis’ disability provides him with a unique skill set which allows him to deeply understand the needs of his clients, leading to stronger advocacy for those who need it most.
“I think representations of diversity creates a more welcoming and understanding environment for our community.”
Disability in the workplace – ask your questions
Want to know what you can and can’t ask about disabilities? Need a little guidance on how to handle disability in the workplace? Be sure to join the Manager Briefing on Wednesday 9 December to hear from Luis and more of our colleagues in Disability Services. Don’t forget to send in your questions ahead of time by using the code #MHMB2020.
Some of Monash Health Community’s Disability Services team.
* Photo was taken pre-COVID-19
Approved by Karen Lowe