Celebrating International Day of People with Disability

Today, on International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD), we celebrate the contribution and achievements of people with a disability and challenge the way we think about disability and inclusion, particularly in the workplace.

With one in five Australians having a disability, it’s critical we create a safe, inclusive, and respectful environment for employees, patients, volunteers and visitors with a disability at Monash Health.

The recent consultation process we undertook as part of our Disability Action Plan highlighted the need for increased awareness of invisible disabilities, site accessibility at a communication level as well as a physical level and the need for more training to support this cultural shift. So, we know there needs to be a journey of changing hearts and minds to reach the point where disability is fully celebrated and accepted within our organisation.

The IDPWD theme for the 2021 is Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world. And fittingly, we were joined at this week’s Manager Briefing by a panel of experts, each with lived experience of disability, for a discussion on how we can demystify and destigmatise disability, with no question off limits!

Holding open and honest conversations

Much of the discussion centred on how a sense of psychological safety can be created to allow open and honest conversations between managers and employees with a disability.

While training at an organisation level is important, Leanne Burn, one of our panelists and a Team leader in our Adult Psychiatry Team said the manager’s approach is key. “As a manager, it’s helpful if you approach the conversation from the perspective of curiosity, not accusation,” she said, particularly in the case of invisible disabilities, where the need to modify a role or responsibilities may not be immediately obvious.

Adding to this, Laura Pettenuzzo, a disabled woman currently working at Women with Disabilities Victoria and a Monash Health service user, suggested that managers should try “meeting their employee’s vulnerabilities with their own” as a way of building rapport and understanding.

No two experiences are the same

We also heard a little more from one of our panelists, Tricia Malowney OAM, after the event. Tricia is a disability and human rights advocate with experience across disability rights and across the health sector and pointed out that some of the issues facing people with disabilities are universal. “It doesn’t matter where I go in the world, when we get together we discuss access – access to health, access to justice, access to education, access to employment, access to everything.”

But while the issue of access is universal, she points out that no two people with disability are the same. “One of the biggest things we discuss is the assumptions that people make about us because we can’t walk, or we can’t see, or we can’t hear, or even that we have a cognitive impairment. What they don’t see is that I am an anthropologist, or my friend is a lawyer, or my other friend runs a successful business –  what they see can be far different to the realities of our lives.”

“What they don’t see is the ableism that absolutely invades our lives, so that people think it is ok to pray for us or tell us how inspirational we are when we leave the house – as though we should be kept away from society’s gaze. Yes I know – they mean well – but please understand that it leaves me devastated that they think that having a disability is so bad that I need praying for.  Let’s face it, having a disability has given me a pretty good living, and I have been empowering others at the same time.”

“So, on International Day of People with Disability, I would like you to come up and say hello – I am always happy to talk, but don’t feel sorry for me. Please treat my illness which is why I have come to you, but please don’t try to heal my disability – I am ok.”

Want to know more?

The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed some practical resources to help promote inclusive workspaces, including information on finding and applying for a job, attracting and recruiting people with a disability and how to modify a role to accommodate a disability.

We’re also finalising our Workplace Adjustment Policy which will be available shortly.

You can also watch a recording of this week’s Manager Briefing and view the presentation on Monash Health’s Disability Action Plan.

Approved by Karen Lowe.


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