Business Leaders Celebrate Disability Inclusion at AND's Cocktail Party

Tue 5 December 2017

Groups of people in corporate attire chat, eat and drink

Australian Network on Disability (AND)’s annual cocktail party was held last Thursday, November 30. Celebrating International Day of People with Disability, guests were treated to a highly engaging panel of speakers, insights into the current state of disability confidence among Australian businesses, and outstanding entertainment from The Voice contestant, Lara Nakhle.

Generously hosted in their state-of-the-art Sydney Centre, EY took the opportunity to announce the launch of its first Accessibility and Inclusion Plan (AIP). Outlining a three-year commitment to disability inclusion, David Hewish, Chair of EY’s Disability Working Group, was highly optimistic:

“We hold ourselves accountable for what we do in disability and look forward to sharing our successes with all of you over the next few years.”

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge, a cruise ship and Sydney Opera House from the 35th floor of the EY Sydney Centre

Above: Image of the remarkable view from the 35th floor of the EY Centre in Sydney.

The event also marked a significant milestone for AND, with IAG named as its 200th Member.

“That’s 200 organisations making progress towards inclusion of people with disability. That’s what AND aims to do – to create a large impact to welcome people with disability in all aspects of business,” said AND founding Chief Executive Suzanne Colbert AM.

The findings from AND’s 2017 Disability Confidence Survey were not quite so optimistic. Now in its third year, the results showed no improvement by Australian Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the areas of access and inclusion for people with disability. Six out of ten SMEs were found to have done nothing to make it easier for customers with disability, with 50% of those citing a lack of specific request as the main reason.

Three people in business attire sit in a row on a stage, holding microphones. One person has a seeing eye dog at his feet.

Above: Image of panelists Graeme Innes AM, Dani Fraillon and Georga Kemp. 

Asked what businesses should be doing, guest panelist and former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes AM said,

“Businesses don’t wait to be asked. If they want to innovate and draw in customers, they go out and they do it. We should be asking why they’re not [doing anything to welcome people with disability]!”

He then challenged every member of the audience to make a difference:

“I don’t buy anyone in this room can’t change this situation. What are you going to do tomorrow to change attitudes about people with disability?”

Panelist Dani Fraillon from PwC was also unwilling to accept the current situation. Calling for one aligned voice from the organisational leaders in the country, she said:

“Now’s the time to get out in the public and say, ‘Australia needs to change!’ It is our day job.”

Sharing a personal account of her experience with NSW Family and Community Services (FACS), panelist and former Stepping Into participant, Georga Kemp proved that welcoming people with disability in the workplace doesn’t have to involve drastic change.

“They [FACS] worked with me to understand my needs as someone with hearing impairment. Every single person in my office now comes and taps me on the shoulder when they want to talk to me – that’s a big deal!” she said.

With a performance that brought many to tears, the formalities were wrapped up by The Voice Season 6 contestant, Lara Nakhle. Born blind, music has been a constant companion for Lara, who has been singing for as long as she could talk. In 2014 Lara was nominated for a New South Wales Young Citizen of the Year award for her contributions to the community.

The AND Cocktail Party, held in celebration of International Day of People with Disability each year, is an opportunity for members and key stakeholders to come together to recognise and celebrate the value of people with disability in the workforce. Many thanks to EY for partnering with us to host this year’s fabulous event. Thank you also to our guest speakers: Andrew Price, Office Managing Partner at EY; Peter Wilson AM, Chair of AND; David Hewish, Chair of EY Disability Working Group; Graeme Innes AM; Dani Fraillon, Partner, People and Organisation at PwC Australia; and Georga Kemp.

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