Disability goes mainstream – Interview with Dr Rhonda Galbally AO

The mainstreaming of disability is finally here to stay, and cannot be “put back in its box”, according to one of Australia’s most prominent disability advocates, Dr Rhonda Galbally AO.

Dr Galbally says the concept of mainstreaming was first introduced into Australia in 1981 – the first year of the International Day of People with Disability – and it’s receiving a resurrection largely due to recent campaigning for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).“

There is a real return to inclusion, independence and integration right now,” Dr Galbally affirms.

As Deputy Chair of the Government’s Advisory Committee for the establishment of the NDIS and Chair of the National People with Disability and Carer Advisory Council, Rhonda’s observations are both timely and critical.

The driving force behind Australia’s most significant disability reform says that “normalising” disability in the workplace starts with intention and incentives throughout society.

“These are pressures that have not existed until now, and are essential for us to really move into 21st century in Australia with mainstreaming.

“Mainstreaming of employment is the critical part of the mainstreaming story, but we need mainstreaming to occur from the very beginning, with our childhood institutions (childcare, kindergarten and schools) able to accept children with a disability.

“This has a direct impact on employment, because international evidence shows us that a person is more likely to get the best outcome from education if they are in a mainstream setting.

“If that person doesn’t get the best outcome, then they don’t get tertiary level training and then when they front up for jobs, they’re not as well positioned. That becomes a vicious cycle if early years haven’t been well addressed,” she explains.

Rhonda says true integration can only be achieved if we start putting outdated models in the past.

“If full community inclusion is the goal, this means that people with disability are rubbing shoulders with people without disability in all areas,” she says.

“In the workforce, we need to see better business models. We need to move from a ‘sheltered employment’ model towards what I call a ‘social firm’ model,” she says.

Rhonda says there are a few Australian corporations, particularly ANZ, that are showing true leadership in employment by accelerating their approach to mainstreaming.

“ANZ is taking really strong action and is brave enough to set targets, which is a valuable thing to be doing and should be noted right around Australia.

“They are showing true best practice corporate responsibility in this area, as targets are absolutely essential. Strategies without targets are toothless tigers.”

“ANZ is not only setting targets but they’re surrounding the targeting with every support system that they possibly can.

”Such initiatives include internal awareness raising programs such as Let’s Be Wheelistic, dedicated recruiters, mentoring programs, annual awards program recognising significant contributors and an Abilities Network which brings together employees who are passionate about making ANZ a more disability confident organisation.

For Sue Jeffery, the chair of ANZ’s Accessibility and Inclusion Plan Steering Committee, mainstreaming is about focusing on the ability not the disability. “We’re breaking down barriers, focusing on making people feel very welcome and ultimately moving away from seeing disability as a ‘minority group’.”

Rhonda says another critical component is the training of recruitment and human resources personnel to ensure they feel comfortable interviewing a person with a disability.

“It’s still amazing the number of people who can’t get job interviews. They keep their disability quiet, but then when they turn up, they are discriminated against.

“Some of the innovative practices we are seeing are people with disability going straight through to interview stage, which is a very good practice to assist mainstreaming.”

Rhonda says that mainstreaming will be achieved when we overcome fear and discrimination in the workplace.

“The best way to overcome fear is to simply employ a person with a disability. “There’s nothing quite like changing the profile of the workforce than by taking the step to include people with disabilities.

Sue Jeffery concurs: “Attitudinal barriers, or unconscious bias, are the biggest challenges to deal with. The best remedy is familiarity, getting people with and without disabilities to work together.”

Finally, Rhonda says businesses that employ people with disabilities are very lucky indeed.

“It’s actually a great quid pro quo in that people with disability bring great value to the workplace, and businesses get really loyal, hard-working and innovative employees.”

Want to make mainstreaming a priority in your workplace?
Take these steps:

  • Train your HR staff so they feel confident interviewing a person with a disability
  • Tell your job applicants you are disability-friendly
  • Allow job applicants with disability to proceed immediately to interview
  • Take an audit of your behaviors, attitudes, systems and knowledge
  • Set targets for your business, and strategies to reach them
  • Consult Australian Network on Disability who help businesses achieve best practice

(This first appeared on ANZ 'Your World' blog, as part of a 3-part series on disability)

Julia Keady
14 November 2013

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