Employing someone with disabilities is not just about Inclusion.

Aside from providing opportunities to achieve potential and be independent, employment gives engagement in the community and purpose to those with disabilities. I believe it is a fundamental right. I hope one day that we don’t even need to have this conversation about Inclusive work practices!

But providing employment to someone with disabilities is even more than all that.

Most psychologists would agree, all humans have a basic underlying need for “belonging”. For me, this underpins true inclusion – where everyone matters, everyone is valued and everyone is equal. I love the hashtag often used within the Down Syndrome community #leavenoonebehind

I also really like the quote from Liz and Mollie.

“Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice. Belonging is being heard”

For me, the key is that Madi’s employment is genuine and not a charity. That inclusion, at Starfish, is not tokenistic. Madi is a valued and equal member of our staff, and is included consulted and considered in all we do within work (commensurate with her position) and outside of work in our social and team building activities.

Madi reports that she feels very much a part of the team. That she is included, is valued and belongs.

Madi proudly wearing her name tag staff lanyard.

When I reflect on it, I can see there are many things we have in place that make this so. I mention them, only to demonstrate how easy it is.

  • Name tag – Madi had her name tag (as do all the Starfish staff) within days of starting her work experience
  • Staff lanyard – all staff, including Madi, wear a lanyard with the register, sensory space gate and door key.
  • Shop keys – Madi was given her own set of shop keys once she started permanent employment. Madi will often arrive first to work so she can let herself in and start getting set for the day. All staff have a set of keys for opening and closing.
  • Work duties – Madi has set tasks, as per level 1retail. Cleaning and menial tasks are fairly distributed across all staff.
  • Customer contact – all staff are required to assist and serve customers as the priority. Madi is expected to be very visible and on the front line of our customer service.
  • Award and conditions – All staff are employed under the same award and conditions (General Retail). As a result, Madi’s hourly rate is the same as other staff on level 1 Retail. Madi has the same Superannuation, breaks and leave entitlements.
  • Annual leave – when Madi asked if she could switch her shifts so she could attend a family wedding, I was very keen for her to take annual leave. I wanted Madi to experience how annual leave works, for her, as it does for everyone else. Recently, Madi mentioned an overseas family holiday and we talked about our process of booking in annual leave. All part of the learning curve as well.
  • Pay – Madi’s pay is processed exactly the same way, on the same day as all staff. Payslips are emailed to Madi, as they are for the others.
  • Paperwork – Madi has the same induction process and Job Description as other level 1 staff. When it comes to Policies and Procedures, I decided to provide Madi with the original (that all staff receive and sign) and a modified version (increased readability level – as the original is very “wordy” and requires a high level of comprehension skills).
  • Team meetings – these are generally held on a Monday morning to start the week off. If Madi is working on that day, she is very much a part of the meeting.
  • Social media – all staff are very involved in our social media and website creation via photos and videos. Madi is often found modelling and doing product demonstrations.
  • Team building – the staff often create team building activities and games during work hours, if they find an occasional quiet time. Madi is very much a part of this.
  • Social activities – we sometimes have little staff celebrations during work hours or bigger events after hours. Consideration is given to ensuring activities chosen are ones that ALL staff can participate in.
  • Special days/moments – my husband and I happily and proudly attended the Special Olympics event where Madi was presented her uniform. Madi is a Gold Medal winner!!! We were also thrilled to be invited and attend Madi’s 21st. It was a wonderful night and a chance to get to know many of Madi’s friends and family.
Madi and the whole Starfish team at Pinot & Picasso.
We had a social even to celebrate our successful NDIS Audit.

I’m sure there are loads more ways to include, reflect diversity and ensure belonging. Many might depend on the individual or the type of workplace. Over the years, no doubt our own list will grow.

Key take home

A true sense of belonging is vital to successfully employing someone with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities. There are opportunities, big and small, in every moment of every work day to ensure all staff are included, valued and belong.

It is not hard.

It is so worth it.

Want to learn more about employing someone with intellectual disabilities, the things we’ve found to be crucial (and at times surprising) to making “it” work so well for us? We’ve put together a series of posts so everyone who needs this information can easily access it.

  • The Accidental Employer: the back story of how we came to employ someone with an intellectual disability
  • Perfect Match: getting the right fit
  • Savvy Collaboration: Communication with ALL the key players
  • Taking the Pressure off: when employing someone with Autism and Intellectual disabilities.
  • Keep your eye on the road but hand on the wheel: setting flexible and reachable goals when employing someone with disabilities.
  • Teach then train: best way to push beyond the present
  • Routines = Success: for independence, confidence and learning new skills
  • A moment with Emily: a sister’s perspective
  • A moment with Janelle: a family’s experience of the process
  • A moment with Julie: observations from The Disability Trust Business Development Officer