Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Whatever happened to disability access?

In the same week that I'm reading in the print media that the numbers of people on disability benefits are at record highs (partly because governments fall on rising unemployment figures, but I digress), I have been scouting for a new building for our organisation. We are obviously not in the league to be able to afford one of the new clean-and-green towers sprouting like steel and glass algae from the compost of former heritage buildings (but I digress again) but neither are we looking for a renovated broom cupboard with a single giraffe window.
Although we do not currently have a staff member with a significant disability (and I'll return to that later), it's our firm policy to always occupy premises that afford proper disability access and toilet facilities.
Call me naive but I have been stunned by how difficult it is to find such properties, with the ratio running at about one in five presently that fulfill both criteria (one in five don't fill either!). True, one or two have offered to convert an existing toilet for multiple use in return for signing a long lease (in other words pay me to value-add to my property) and some have one toilet available in the building to serve all floors.
I can only conclude that (a) there are no persons in wheelchairs working in these buildings and (b) there'd be no point in anyone in a wheelchair applying for a job for any of the companies that operate from these buildings (even if management were prepared to hire them).
So that leaves gum'n't, well-heeled companies and nonprofits with a commitment to disability justice to carry the can while the vast majority of small to medium businesses carry on regardless.
But a final puzzling point if I may. In the eight years I have been CEO of our organisation, I have only been approached once by an agency about the possibility of any sort of work for a person with a disability (Centrelink, for a person returning from a back injury, and we were happy to help) and we have never received a job application from a person with an observable disability. Yes, I know there are other challenges (nor the least being transport) but I do find it passing strange.

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