'Employers' attitudes' big barrier to disabled employment
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.
When you walk into the Casita Gift shop in Tauranga, you get a sense of belonging, pride and self-expression.
There are books, clothes, jewellery, fresh cookies, plants and more in a riot of colours.
There are a huge variety of gifts for sale - many of them have been made by the disabled people who volunteer at the store or are from those Casita is helping to grow and develop.
From the talent on display, finding jobs for disabled people should be simple, but that’s not the case.
Morgan Penny, 29, and Kate Sutherland, 31, both volunteer part-time at Casita, and they also happen to be flatmates.
Penny has cerebral palsy and left hemiplegia, which causes varying degrees of weakness, stiffness and lack of control on one side of her body.
She said it was difficult to find work because of her disability.
“A lot of businesses have very high expectations, and they require qualifications or a certain skill set that a lot of disabled people don’t have.
“And that makes it incredibly frustrating and really disheartening.
“It was a hard process to try to get through. But then [Casita] has just opened up a whole bunch of new discoveries and a whole bunch of different opportunities that help raise those skills.”
Since she began working there three years ago, Penny has been selling plants at the shop under the name “Simply Blooming”, which is her own company.
Sutherland also sold her own brand of gluten-free cookies in the store.
The T-shirt she’s wearing says ‘Dare to be Bold’, and despite the genetic condition that causes her to have rigid ligaments and muscles, her attitude is exactly that - bold and happy.
Their support worker, Georgie Brown, said it was not difficult to adapt to disabilities when hiring.
“It’s just about being flexible, accommodating and willing to take the risk. Even if it’s just a five-hour-a-week job, letting someone work when it works for them.”
The most recent Statistics New Zealand national data from the June 2022 quarter shows the unemployment rate for disabled people aged 15-64 years was 7.9 per cent, compared to 3.3 per cent for non-disabled people in the same age group.
Only 41.5 per cent of disabled 15-64-year-olds were employed, compared to 80.4 per cent of non-disabled people in that age group.
Paula Young, service manager at CCS Disability Action Bay of Plenty, said there were no regional statistics available to make a comparison, but despite the lack of figures, the challenges were big.
“I would say that the main drivers of the lack of employment for disabled people are employers’ attitudes and accessibility barriers in our community.
“There are obvious physical barriers too, with public transport, infrastructure and buildings not designed for the needs of all people. It’s such a shame, as disabled people really have so much to offer.
“Having had to navigate life’s challenges, many disabled people are incredible problem-solvers, resilient and determined. These are qualities that are valuable in most workplaces.”
Young hoped businesses would seize the opportunity to hire disabled people.
“Disabled people, like any other [people], bring their knowledge, education, skills and strengths to roles and, like non-disabled people, would love the opportunity to work in roles where these attributes can be used.”
Workbridge regional service manager Helen Riesen said the job market had been quite buoyant.
“However, we have seen signs of this changing, and with that, we will almost certainly see a change in the amount of work that we can obtain for people with disabilities. People with disabilities will find it more challenging to find a job, as the job market gets flooded with more job-seekers and fewer openings.”
Workbridge helped job-seekers with disabilities or medical conditions, as well as working employers throughout the country to open up new opportunities.
Riesen believed the “unknown” was the reason why many employers did not consider people with disabilities.
“Being an inclusive employer brings many benefits with it, as other people want to work for an inclusive employer. People with disabilities are often incredibly loyal and bring a unique skill set that helps the employer achieve their goals.”
Brown, and the others, hoped businesses would be more open to giving people with disabilities a job.
“Don’t be afraid to take a chance on people - you could be amazed at the product of the enthusiasm. The different perspectives that can be brought into your workplace can help your workplace grow and take off, think differently and be more accommodating.
“It can be a game-changer.”
Hero image: Volunteers Morgan Penny and Kate Sutherland at Casita. Photo / William Sangster