Be Employed envisions equal opportunities for all

Be Employed envisions equal opportunities for all
Social change enterprise Be Accessible has launched a new initiative in the form of Be Employed, which hopes to tackle an ugly truth - more than 60 percent of New Zealanders with a disability are unemployed, about 10 times the national average.

minnie baragwanath chief executive be instituteSocial change enterprise Be Accessible has launched a new initiative in the form of Be Employed, which hopes to tackle an ugly truth: more than 60 percent of New Zealanders with a disability are unemployed, about 10 times the national average, according to the Centre for Social Research and Evaluation.

The Be programmes are run by the Be Institute, which was founded in 2011 through a partnership between the Auckland Council, AUT and Auckland District Health Board and is now an independent social enterprise operating nationwide spearheading the accessibility movement.

Companies are increasingly starting to see the value of having a diverse workforce, Be Institute chief executive Minnie Baragwanath says.

"Employers have said they want a one stop shop around accessible employment."

Be Employed aims to facilitate this, from publishing general resources online to bespoke consulting for companies - from boutique businesses to big corporations and government departments - to hosting events where employers can discuss issues around accessible employment and see what's working well and where challenges remain.

Be Employed has risen out of the ashes of the Employers' Disability Network and Baragwanath says it's a natural fit with the other programmes run by Be Accessible, such as Be Welcome (which assesses businesses on how accessible they are) and Be Leadership (which develops leaders with experience of disability).

Be Employed has inherited the 24 employers that were previously members of the EDN, including Westpac, AUT, Auckland Council, ACC, MFAT, Vodafone and NZ Post - organisations that are committed to accessibility, she says, and not just "ticking a box around compliance".

"These are the kinds of organisations I think could really help to define and shape the future direction of accessible employment in New Zealand."

Baking accessibility into all aspects of an organisation can include something as simple as the way a website is designed, Baragwanath says.

"If I was applying for a job, if I was going through the normal process of trying to look at a website, if it hadn't been designed to interact well with my screen reading software, I might miss out," she explains.

"Recruitment agencies are really a big part of this conversation too."

Employers should avoid writing off applicants beyond that first filter too, she warns. Consider how genuinely crucial a required attribute, such as a driving licence, is for a particular job, and don't jump to conclusions about what someone with a disability may or may not be capable of. It might be a matter of making some simple adaptations, or thinking outside the box.

"When you live with a disability, you get incredibly good at problem solving and coming up with solutions to all sorts of problems," she says.

Baragwanath, whose vision is impaired, swears by her trusty black felt tip pen and screen reading software Jaws. From her computer to phone to bathroom scales, "all my technology has to talk to me," she laughs, adding in a word of praise for Apple's "amazing" audio functions.