Abilities beyond disabilities

For decades, Australia has struggled to close the unemployment gap for people living with disabilities – but now, these individuals are actively fighting for change and are determined to make a difference.

Tayla Taseff, 24, from Perth was born with cerebral palsy, a motor disability which affects her ability to move and maintain balance. 

Miss Taseff says her intellectual abilities are met with constant dismissal due to her physical condition. 

“People see my disability on my resume and automatically put me in the too hard basket,” she says.

“You’re with a number of agencies who promise to fulfil your employment dreams and goals. You’re with them for such an extended period of time and they don’t give you anything.

“I feel like they are just existing in the world at the moment to tick the box and receive the funding.”

Miss Taseff has taken it into her own hands and set out to make her career goals a reality.

She says after volunteering for five years, she has finally landed a casual job as a health enquiry officer at the Perth Children’s Hospital. 

Miss Taseff shares her experience and struggles entering the workforce. Video: Rebeka Petroska.

Her support worker Emma Bandoski says that she is grateful to the Perth Children’s Hospital for giving Ms Taseff this opportunity.

“Tayla has worked really hard for this role and she deserves it,” says Miss Bandoski.

A recent study by JobAcess reveals a 30 per cent unemployment gap for people living with disabilities in Australia and this has remained unchanged for over 20 years.

The study has outlined Australian businesses are underprepared, with many lacking the skills and eco-systems to support people with a disability.

University of Queensland Associate Professor Paul Harpur is a leading international and comparative disability rights advocate and legal academic. 

Despite becoming completely blind at the age of 14, Dr Harpur says he has not let his disability stop him from success. 

Dr Paul Harpur relies on his guide dog to help him navigate through life. Photo: supplied.

“I represented Australia as a lead athlete in two paralympics, two commonwealth games, three world titles.”

“I then became a lawyer, practiced law and completed a PHD,” he says.

Dr Harpur has also faced many barriers throughout his career. 

“Having a disability is like having another job because depending on your disability, you have to manage your disability, how your disability is perceived and then you have to do your job,” he says.

“People over the years make various assumptions so sometimes they may assume you can’t do something or it’s too hard. Of course that means you don’t get opportunities.” 

Dr Harpur says a lot of Australian businesses and educational institutions are not equipped to employ people with disabilities. 

“When you have a disability you’ve got to fit within a system that isn’t really built for you,” he says.

“When they build the digital physical spaces, they don’t anticipate someone who might have diverse needs that sit outside the minority. A lot of people have issues engaging with the built environment or digital spaces.”

Working-age people with disability are more likely to be unemployed than those without disability.
Infographic: Rebeka Petroska.

Dr Harpur is committed to creating change for those living with disabilities through his four-year research project group Universities Enable

“I support universities becoming disability champions of change,” he says.

“We’ve developed a really robust disability action plan and have a monitoring group run by a person with disability and have members with disabilities on the group to help implement and oversee it.”

Dr Harpur is the chairman along with deputy chair Dr Lisa Stafford and Professor Katie Ellis who all live with unique disabilities.

“We’re leaders with a disability from the sector, working with leaders in the sector to co-create a disability inclusion strategy for the sector.”

The group has recently completed an academic submission to Universities Accord to assist people with disabilities accessing university, completing high degree research and landing successful jobs. 

For people like Tayla Taseff, this means being able to pursue her dream career. 

Tayla shares her dreams to become a paediatrician. Video: Rebeka Petroska.

Dr Harpur says the accord aims to cover a lot of these issues.

“What we’ve tried to do is provide a disability lens, so the minority can relate more to universities,” he says.

“Universities are the machine that can drive us to a more inclusive tomorrow so by making these inclusive for everyone we help make society more inclusive for everyone.” 

Dr Paul Harpur

Dr Harpur says reducing these barriers can implement diverse perspectives, stronger connections, and strong economic outcomes.

“Diverse teams are innovative teams and innovative teams are successful teams.” 

Dr Paul Harpur