It can be hard for people with disability to enter the workforce, but more businesses are becoming inclusive

It can be hard for people with disability to enter the workforce, but more businesses are becoming inclusive
  • PublishedOctober 6, 2023

Despite one in five Australians living with a disability, the jobless rate for people with disabilities remains stubbornly high.

Working aged people with a disability are twice as likely to be unemployed (10 per cent) as those without a disability (4.6 per cent).

Tasmanian man Finn Graham-Hilder is bucking the trend after he landed a role in hospitality.

A young man in Hudsons Coffee apron holding a spray bottle cleans a counter top.
Mr Graham-Hilder says he loves talking to customers.(Supplied: Rachel Graham-Hilder)

The 20-year-old is one of two people with Down syndrome employed at Launceston Airport in new positions specifically open to people with disabilities.

Like in any job, Mr Graham-Hilder had to go through the appropriate interview process before he was offered the job.

“I got nervous at the start of my first shift,” he said.

“Now I really enjoy it.

“It’s OK if it gets busy at the airport, because I really like to talk to people at the seats. That’s my favourite part.”

‘More workplaces becoming diverse’

The hospitality roles were offered by Emirates Leisure Retail Australia (ELRA), which owns and operates more than 300 restaurants, cafes and bars across Asia, The Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, including Launceston and Hobart airports.

ELRA contacted Down Syndrome Tasmania when the positions became available.

Stacey Jackson, the disability support agency’s executive officer, said many businesses were increasingly seeing the benefit of engaging people with disabilities.

“It is heading in the right direction as we see more workplaces becoming diverse,” she said.

“The biggest challenge to employing people with disabilities is often misconceptions and stereotypes.

“Many employers may have preconceived notions about the capabilities of individuals with disabilities, assuming that they may not be as productive or effective in the workplace.”

Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21 in a person’s cells.

This additional genetic material leads to physical and cognitive developmental differences, but with support, individuals with Down syndrome lead fulfilling lives.

Getting training can be a hurdle

A young man in black shirt, glasses and bow tie is hugged by his mother in the stands of an event.
Finn’s mother Rachel Graham-Hilder says her son, who loves dancing, took some convincing to take the cafe job.(Supplied: Rachel Graham-Hilder)

“He’s been training for two years with NOSS, a registered provider of support for people with disabilities,” Mr Graham-Hilder’s mother Rachel Graham-Hilder said.

“He’s learned to cook and make cold and hot drinks at tables, serve customers and take orders.”

Ms Jackson said accessing training could often be a major obstacle.

“We understand that people are often very busy and don’t have much free time,” she said.

“With our employment connection service, we aim to make things easier by providing information to those who need it.

“We also want to dispel any misconceptions that might be holding them back from taking the next steps.”

A young man and woman hold hands and dance on a hardwood dance floor surrounded by a crowd.
Mr Graham-Hilder has competed in dancing events.(Supplied: Rachel Graham-Hilder)

While Mr Graham-Hilder, who is also a skilled dancer, is happy to be employed and earning money, his mother said it took some convincing to take on the role.

“Well, the look on his face. I don’t think he was very impressed. Because all he wants to do is to be a famous entertainer,” Ms Graham-Hilder said.

“So, then I had to plaster this enormous grin on my face and make my eyes pop out of my head to make it seem amazing.

“So, we did, and he was proud. He couldn’t wait to show me his apron.”

So where to next for Mr Graham-Hilder?

“I really want to see him pursuing his passion, which is dancing,” Ms Graham-Hilder said.

“But I’d love to see him continue what he’s doing and just become very good at it. Like he’s good at dancing.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *