Program for people with a disability shows what can happen when employment barriers are broken down

Ashley Harris has been very keen to enter the workforce but has faced many barriers along the way.

“I can find roles that I can do physically, but the problem is when I come to an interview because of my myoclonus and my Tourette’s, my performance at an interview level is very poor,” Mr Harris said.

“If anyone knows anything about Tourette’s, if you try to fight the noises, twitches — or whatever it is that’s specific to you — it just makes you do it more.”

Now in his 40s, Mr Harris has recently gained employment as an aged care worker.

He was one of eight trainees who participated in the Road to Employment program run by Adelaide-based disability advocacy organization JFA Purple Orange.

The program aims to connect people with a disability to meaningful employment.

Mr Harris said people with a disability were major assets to industries like the aged care sector.

“We have gone through a lot more hardship and discrimination in many ways and we often have that kind of extra empathy,” he said.

Access to independence

Fellow trainee Ben Hondow finished school in 2020 and said gaining employment and having a paid traineeship in aged care had given him independence.

“This has been way more supportive than school because at least people can understand what autistic and people [with a disability] go through these days,” Mr Hondow said.

“I never had my own car … I bought myself a little Mazda 2 green car — it gets me from A to B.”

A man wearing a light blue polo shirt standing in a car park in front of a building
Ben Hondow says his employer has been more supportive than his school.(ABC News: Evelyn Leckie)

Amber Aged Care in Adelaide’s north-east is one of the facilities participating in the program.

Chief executive Dominique Evele said she had faced roadblocks to employment herself.

“Being born with a congenital disability — and always feeling like everyone should have the opportunity to work — when the opportunity came to be part of this project, it resonated with me,” Ms Evele said.

“I wanted to ensure that we could support the trainees and once they’d finished that we could employ them in the future.”

A woman with blonde hair wearing a black dress
Amber Aged Care chief executive Dominique Evele says she also had difficulty getting a job because of her disability.(supplied)

The disability royal commission heard 53 percent of people with a disability of working age were unemployed in 2018.

JFA Purple Orange policy and research leader Tracey Wallace said the program was aimed at addressing unemployment and underemployment rates for people living with a disability.

“Some of our trainees have never had a job before — some have been unemployed for over five years — so this has provided them a step in the industry,” Ms Wallace said.

“Ultimately our endgame is that we don’t even need separate programs to be able to give people living with disability a chance in the workforce.”

A woman with brown hair wearing a gray blazer and black top in a park
Tracey Wallace from JFA Purple Orange says the goal is not to need the Road to Employment program.


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