RECREATING & RETHINKING THE WORKPLACE | IS THIS HOW STRANGERS REALLY VIEW ME #2
Amy Mauer is the program coordinator at Recreate and an advocate for people with disabilities. She holds a master’s in Industrial and Organisational Psychology, where she researched the complex adversity faced by those with intellectual access needs who want to enter the workforce. Amy is determined through her research and her work with Recreate to help people with intellectual access needs gain widespread employment, social and adventurous opportunities.
“I think there is a large misconception that an inclusive workplace includes absolutely everybody in every job that is available, and I believe that is incorrect. Even amongst a neurotypical population, not everybody is suitable for every job. However, what is offered to them is the chance to apply to the job and receive a fair trial in assessing their suitability. This is what I believe is missing when it comes to individuals with intellectual access needs attempting to gain employment. Too often it is put in the ‘too hard’ box as employers believe there are too many variables to consider, but I would argue you have to consider just as many variables when you employ a neurotypical employee. The difference when hiring an individual with intellectual needs is the variables can be new and unknown and that is what deters employers.
There has been talk of enforcing quotas within the workplace to make it more inclusive and I must admit, I hate the idea. I think to force a quota would be irresponsible, I believe it sets up a psychologically dangerous environment and will reinforce negative perceptions. Rather our responsibility as a society is not to point fingers and say “you must be inclusive and hire everyone”, it is to educate the workplace in the hope of removing the stigma and negative perceptions attached to employees with an intellectual need. This will allow the creation of a supportive environment where the individual is employed because they are valued as a person and their contribution as an employee is celebrated.
In my position at Recreate, I have worked with many people into different spaces and opportunities. The story of Jack who is featured soon in this project is one that will always stand out to me. We offer so many different programs and Jack has tried them all. He has always been an easy-going member of the group, very quiet, never complained and opened up once he trusted you. I always wondered in what way he was benefiting from the programs he attended, as we try to ensure we tailor programs to challenge the individuals, but I would not confidently say we ever nailed it on the head with Jack.
On first impressions, Jack does not come across as a charismatic employee. Rather he is reserved and wary of new people. What is hard to communicate to employers is that Jack is everything you would want in an employee and more, but it requires a level of trust that the employer has no reason to grant. When I offered the new Recreate X Downlights MOXIE program, where individuals from Recreate work with the Downlights candle company, Jack was the first to sign up and I have to be honest, I was nervous Jack would not benefit from it. I cannot describe how wrong I was. Jack has taken to Downlights like a duck in water, he LOVES it.
For the first time in the years I have been working with Jack he told me he had “the best day” rather than “it was ok”. Emotive language, laughter, and quick wit are now a given, he is so happy, and he feels valued and appreciated in the work he does. He hums while he works, and he sighs at me when I get things wrong, I truly feel so emotional when I think of the growth, I have seen in Jack over the past 10 weeks. It wasn’t that the other programs were not beneficial for Jack, it was just that we had not found the right fit for Jack to flourish. I think that is a really important take-home message. Not every opportunity is suited to every individual and we have to keep knocking on doors until we find the best fit. For me, Jack will always be a reminder of that.
I have had so many conversations where there is an expectation to explain exactly what an individual with autism would be like as an employee, or what a person who has down syndrome would be good at. The person, at the start, at the middle and at the end of the conversation is just that, a person. It’s like asking me what daily tasks would be best suited to a person that likes to wear blue.
I do think there is a genuine interest from employers wanting to create an inclusive workplace, however, the misconception is that intellectual access needs can be put in a neat little ‘employability-box’. It is most definitely not that simple, every individual has things they excel at and challenges they face, the answer lies in finding the best way to communicate with the individual and getting to know them. The standard employment process relies on self-advocacy and I would challenge the effectiveness of this approach regardless of whether an individual has an access need or not. I definitely think there has been a shift in the past year and people are beginning to have this conversation in their workplace. It is important to address the misconceptions and provide education in a supportive and constructive manner but above anything else, our job is to ensure the conversation is people-centered.