People With Disabilities ACT Inc. (PWD ACT Inc.) is a not for profit consumer run systemic advocacy organisation which represents the interests of people with disabilities in the ACT. PWD ACT Inc. works to improve access to all amenities and to all formats of information and activities of the community. PWD ACT Inc. is a peak body which seeks to inform the community about disability issues.
The ACT Public Service Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities was launched by the ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope in April 2011. The Strategy is part of the Respect, Equity and Diversity (RED) Framework. It was also the ACT Government’s response to a report and resource manual on the employment of people with disabilities produced by PWD ACT in December 2009. This report can be found on our website and much of its content remains relevant to the employment of people with disabilities in the ACT Public Service of today.
The Discussion Paper refers to the changes in the landscape within which the ACT Public Service operates which provide the context to the review of the RED Framework. These include the fact that the ACT Public Service now operates under a One Service model as a result of the implementation of the Hawke Review recommendations. The RED Review is also providing in the context of a review of the public Sector Management Act 1994 and its associated Standards.
PWD ACT submits that this review of the RED Framework and the Associated Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities should also take account of the ACT Human Rights Framework as set out in the ACT Human Rights Act and the International Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities and in particular Article 27 of this Convention.
The area of employment still remains the area in which State and Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Agencies receive the most of their complaints. It is also the area in which the complaints are the most difficult to resolve and in which to date there have been few successful outcomes for people with disabilities.
Also, since 2011, there has been little progress generally in increasing the raw numbers and the percentages of people with disabilities employed in the public sector.
In my column in the PWD ACT Newsletter, for October 2013, I wrote the following:
‘In April 2011, the ACT Government launched its Strategy for the Employment of People with Disabilities in the ACT Public Service. This Strategy was the Government’s to PWD ACT’s own Report ‘Making Diversity Work’which highlighted the issues for people with disabilities who are seeking employment in the ACT Public Service. The Strategy included reporting requirements in which the employment of people with disabilities would be included in the State of the Service Report, an Annual ACT publication. The 2013 Report had just been released. http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/497345/2012_2013_state_of_the_service_report.pdf
ÂÂ We note with disappointment that on page 100 of the Report it shows that as at the 30th of June 2013, the ACT Public Service has 384 people with a disability employed. That is 122 people short of the target of 6506 people for 30 June 2013 set out in the employment strategy. Further the report shows that since 30 June 2011, the numbers of people with disabilities employed in the ACT Public Service have only increased by two people from 382 people to 384 people. PWD ACT is very concerned at these statistics. But more than statistics, we are concerned that people with disabilities who want employment in the ACT Public Service are not achieving employment and that the momentum we worked hard for in the 2009-2011 period has been lost. PWD ACT asks why the ACT Public Service is not achieving employment for people with disabilities and what needs to be done to improve our ACT Public Service performance on this important indicator of social justice and inclusion for people with disabilities.’
We hope that this review will provide some answers.
We now turn to questions 5 to 21 in the Discussion Paper. We have not answered all questions but have focussed on those which we can best answer from our role as a systemic advocacy service. We note that the ACT Public Service is also consulting our sector colleagues involved in individual advocacy and direct employment placement and that these organisation will provide much useful information.
Question 5: PWD ACT was involved in the development of the Strategy. The Strategy was an important element of the Government’s response to our own initiative ‘Making Diversity Work’ Report published by PWD ACT in December 2009. PWD ACT has a high awareness of the Strategy and its vision, aims and objectives.
Question 6: To date: the Employment Strategy has not made the ACT Public Service a disability confident Service. This is evidenced by the raw numbers of self-identified people with disabilities employed in the ACT Public Service as recorded in the 2013 State of the Service Report. The many reasons for this will emerge in our comments on subsequent questions.
Question 7: We have had no evidence from our members that the Employment Strategy itself has attracted people with disabilities to seek employment in the ACT Public Service. However, in the time available we have not been able to canvass the views of our members on this question. We also suspect that because the Strategy has not been widely publicised outside the disability sector and the senior elements of the ACT Public Service, the existence of the Strategy would not be a key factor in a decision of a person with a disability to seek employment in the ACT Public Service. Other factors such as the sheer need to get a job and the general belief that the public sector both had the inclination and the resources to make the accommodations necessary for the employment of people with disabilities would affect the employment decisions of people with disabilities.
Question 8: The key obstacles to the ACT Public Service in attracting and retaining people with disabilities are both internal and external. The internal obstacles include:
Attitudes of both senior and lower level managers to people with disabilities and their employment – to be overcome by continuing education and training;
Limited perceptions of the capacity to make reasonable adjustments and accommodations to enable the employment of a person with a disability – to be overcome by continuing education and training;
The current tight monetary and employment environment in which the Service operates and the real and imagined constraints which managers feel prevent them from employing people with disabilities;
Continuing incidence of discrimination and harassment – to be overcome by education and training and more effective methods to prevent discrimination and harassment and resolve incidents which occur; and
Continued acquisition of information technology systems and other systems and office fittings which are inaccessible for people with disabilities – to be overcome by legislation which mandate disability access in ACT Public Service Procurement Policies and practices – section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act provides a model;.
The external factors include:
Buildings, offices and office environments which are inaccessible or unfriendly for people with disabilities – to be overcome by legally mandated procurement policies as above;
Lack of accessible transport to get to and from work – to be overcome by provision of accessible transport through ACT transport policy;
Lack of personal care services to enable a person to work and to also have a non-work life – to be overcome by provision of these services possibly through the NDIS;
Limitations of the education system and lack of training opportunities – to be overcome by reforms to education and training.
Question 9: This target will not be achieved.
Questions 10: Targets alone are not an effective method to drive the attraction and retention of people with disabilities in the ACT Public Service. Targets need to be combined with other strategies to support their achievement. Some of these strategies were mentioned in the answer to Question 8. Other strategies include the identification of particular employment opportunities suited to people with particular disabilities which is an element of the current strategy which has only been used to a limited extent. We note that the outgoing Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes has recently called for the use of quotas to increase the raw numbers and percentages of people with disabilities employed in the public sector.
Question 11: People with disabilities have the same employment aspirations as all members of the community. Accordingly: the characteristics which would make the ACT Public Service an attractive place of employment for people with disabilities are the same and include: fulfilling rewarding work, appropriate pay, respectful, friendly and professional co-workers and a pleasant work environment. In addition for people with disabilities there needs to be an attitude which accepts them as people and co-workers first and in which accommodations and adjustments are made in an unobtrusive and respectful way.
Question 12: In relation to the achievements of the Employment Strategy there was a program at the commencement of the Strategy in which a number of people with intellectual disabilities were engaged in traineeships and successfully completed them. Other than this, we are not aware of any achievements specifically attributable to the Strategy. This does not mean there haven’t been such achievements because in so far as a strategy influences the attitudes of managers, there may have been instances of engagement or retention of staff with disabilities by managers exposed to the Strategy but in which the Strategy is not identified as an element of the decision.
Question 13: PWD ACT supports the retention of the Strategy as part of the RED Framework. The employment of people with disabilities needs to be part of overall ACT Public Service policy and not a separate and distinct policy. This is because People with disabilities are part of the community of ACT Public Service employees and not an isolated group of employees.
Question 15: It is arguable that the ACT Public Service could have done more to monitor and evaluate the Strategy. One of the factors affecting monitoring and evaluation of the Strategy has been the adoption of a slow and careful approach to its implementation which meant that there was not much that could be monitored or evaluated. PWD ACT understands the reasoning for this slow and cautious approach. But one of the drawbacks of this approach is that the first indication that the Strategy was in difficulty was the 2013 State of the Service Report.
Question 16: The reporting on the Strategy as part of the State of the Service Report has been useful to PWD ACT as it has allowed us to evaluate the Strategy in the context of the general administration of the ACT Public Service.
Question 17: The ACT Public Service could better monitor the Employment Strategy by having a report to the disability sector in addition to the report as part of the Annual State of the Service Report. This Report could be timed for the 6th month of the 12 months between State of the Service Report. This additional report obligation may help maintain the momentum of the Strategy.
Maintaining the Employment Strategy
Question 18: The employment Strategy is still required as the ACT Public Service has a long way to go to provide a quality employment experience for both potential and actual employees and to meet the Strategy’s initial numeric targets.
Questions 19 and 20: The Employment Strategy Action Plan has worked in generating a consciousness of employment issues affecting people with disabilities at a senior level of the ACT. The Strategy has not worked in generating actions for its implementation by senior managers and there is little evidence of its penetration to lower levels of the ACT Public Service and to those areas of the ACT Public Service who do not see themselves as having a direct connection with people with disabilities.
Question 21: Our suggestions for the future of the Employment Strategy are set out in our answers to the above questions. We are continuing to consult with our members on employment issues and will bring any ideas to the attention of the Public Sector Management Group