Claire Cenin says many employers put the hiring a person with disabilities in the too-hard basket. (Supplied: Rachel Vasicek)
For most young people who go to university, the aim is to study, graduate and, with a bit of effort and luck, get a job within a year or two.
For Claire Cenin, the six years since she graduated have been a lot more frustrating.
“I didn’t think I was going to get straight into a job, I didn’t have those expectations, but I didn’t think it would take as long as it has,” she said.
The 29-year-old uses a wheelchair and feels that is the reason behind her countless job rejections.
Ms Cenin said she is mindful of workplaces with wheelchair access and is careful to apply for jobs she is qualified for but “it just hasn’t been happening”.
The Hobart resident graduated in 2011 with a degree in Arts and Tourism and was hoping to get a job as a travel agent.
Despite also gaining a certificate in tourism retail sales, the closest she has come to working in the industry is volunteering to greet cruise ship passengers.
“It’s got to the point where it’s incredibly frustrating and very disheartening,” she said.
“Sometimes I’m really qualified for the position and I suit all the criteria. Those are the ones that, when I get the rejection, they hurt the most.”
People with disabilities ‘see things from different angles’
A quarter of Tasmanians live with a disability, compared to 18 per cent nationally.
Fifty-three per cent of Australians with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 65 participate in the labour force, compared to 83 per cent of Australians without a disability.
Jane Wardlaw, who runs Launceston-based disability consultancy Wardlaw and Brown, said outdated community attitudes were part of the problem.
“There was a time where people with a disability were viewed as perhaps being those who were unproductive citizens,” she said.
She wants employers to ditch old-fashioned attitudes, saying workers with disabilities are loyal, highly productive and have fewer sick days.
“People living with disability are often brilliant problem solvers, so they can see things from different angles,” she said.
“We encourage employers to actually start thinking creatively and in a more contemporary way, you will find that employing people with a disability can be beneficial to your business.
“Disability does not impact on the quality of people’s work.”
Ms Wardlaw has faced her own challenges navigating the workforce in a wheelchair, having previously worked for an organisation that required travel across outback Western Australia.
“For quite a time there it had to take some extra convincing to my employer that I was quite capable of going out into the outback with my own support and that I was quite capable of doing the job at hand,” she said.
“It took some convincing but I did it and I’m quite proud of my achievements.”
‘We can still do the job’
There are Commonwealth incentives for companies who hire people with disabilities, including wage subsidy support and the Employment Assistance Fund which covers workplace modifications.
Claire Cenin thinks education would help employers realise they are missing out on great employees. (Supplied: Rachel Vasicek)
Deb Temby, from disability employment service Epic Assist, said some employees do not need any modifications to the workplace, while others only required minor changes.
“It could be access to anything like adjusting bench heights in a workshop to meet somebody’s needs or it could be somebody on a productivity-based wage,” she said.
“Some of the modifications are very simple modifications, and that can be workplace environment, it could be job role.
“Very simple modifications can assist somebody into work.”
Ms Cenin thinks some employers put it in the too-hard basket.
“People don’t want to deal with it, it’s too hard, it’s too complicated, no-one can give a stuff so it’s easier just to ignore it and hire somebody else,” she said.
“I think there does need to be more education and situations where people can be like, ‘look, this person’s in a wheelchair but she can still do the job, that’s not an issue’.
“There just needs to be that lightbulb moment in people where they go ‘OK, cool, that’s totally fine’.”