Ideas to shape the future – takeaways from AND’s 10th National Conference

Thu 31 May 2018

Suzanne presenting at a lectern at the Australian Network on Disability Annual Conference. A professional photographer takes her photo.

Always a highlight of our annual calendar, on May 15 we celebrated our 10th Annual National Conference in Sydney. The theme was: Connecting Ideas, Shaping the Future.

It was clearly a theme that resonated with our audience. In a live poll that asked attendees what they were most hoping to get out of their conference experience, the overwhelming majority voted for ‘ideas and inspiration’. And we hope you agree, there was no shortage of either!

The next step is to turn those ideas into practical strategies you can use in your organisation. To make that as easy for you as possible, here’s a roundup of some of this year’s key takeaways.

Accessibility and live captioning

Speaker: Tony Abrahams, Ai-Media 

  • 85% of Facebook videos are watched silently, which makes captioning incredibly important to people with and without disability.
  • Kids that watch captions on TV are going to be two years ahead of their peers in reading by the age of seven. Captions help the brain to match speech with text, which helps enormously in terms of sight words.

“We should not be focusing on disability as something we need to provide accommodation for, we should be focusing on the principles of universal design.”

Leadership, learning and legacy

Speaker: Kate Nash OBE, PurpleSpace 

What can get in the way of inclusion?

  • Individuals often find it challenging to identify with the semantics and language of disability. We need to think about creative ways to encourage people to bring their authentic selves to work.
  • Many people with disability will experience pity from others. As one of the most corrosive of human emotions, pity can have a profoundly deleterious impact on how individuals feel about themselves, which can get in the way of them asking for the workplace adjustments they need to thrive in their roles.
  • If you use a language of ‘disclosure’ or ‘declaration’, it suggests a person might have a secret or big piece of news, which often doesn’t make sense to a person with disability.

“Sometimes it is absolutely proper to encourage, support, cajole, sometimes downright insist that an employer improves their policy, practice and procedures.”

Ideas to drive inclusion

  • Disability employee networks are a vehicle to drive systemic change. Actively create a brand for your network. Being a bit naughty and cheeky and developing a brand that is playful and energetic is often helpful.
  • Mobilise the ‘Magic Three’:
    • Disability Champion – this person should lend their name, ask the difficult questions, open doors and, from time to time, be impatient.
    • Disability Employee Network leaders – those best placed to articulate the experience of disability.
    • Diversity and Inclusion practitioners – these people are the ‘glue’; the ones who get things done.
  • Invest in your organisation’s ‘internal energy’ – it is often the catalyst for substantive and systemic cultural change.
  • Create authentic campaigns, which encourage people to share their stories and ask for the workplace adjustments they need. For example: Shell’s ‘Be Yourself’ campaign and Fujitsu’s ‘Be Completely You’ campaign.
  • It’s critical that you fix your organisation’s workplace adjustments process. Don’t tweak it, fix it.
  • Develop a robust accessibility action plan.

“Organisations that choose deliberately to learn from their own people, particularly through the encouragement and fostering of networks, will make progress.”

Useful stats

  • 83% of all people with disability in the UK have acquired their impairment through the course of their working life. 
  • Use the 10% rule: Employers, 10% of your people will have disability (regardless of what your data shows).

The purple campaign

  • A few years ago, the UK government, without reference to people with disability, started to use the concept of the ‘Purple Pound’. The notion of purple has since taken off as a new way for people to brand disability and create community.
  • #purplelightup, which was started by PurpleSpace, is becoming a global movement.

“Is the time now to use 3 December – International Day of People with Disability – and the colour purple to join and co-join disability networks, purple champions and their allies across the globe?”

25 Years of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)

Speakers: Rosemary Kayess, Disability Innovation Institute UNSW; Donna Purcell, Commonwealth Bank

Looking back

  • From the beginning, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) provided very prominent recognition of the discrimination that people with disability experience.
  • Systems and policies based on stereotypes, misunderstanding and fear create systemic barriers to inclusion.
  • Anti-discrimination law has a place in policy framework to achieve normative change but cannot be the sole driver.

“One of the major successes of the DDA has been the cultural shift in understanding that treating someone the same doesn’t always equal equality.”

Looking forward

  • Take the focus away from the disability and instead focus on the individual and what they can bring to the organisation.
  • As people with disability engage more in employment and within the community, it will break down biases and fear.
  • Use the power of storytelling to make visible your organisation’s commitment to inclusion.

“There are a lot of highly educated and very experienced people with disability who have a lot to offer and are equipped to fulfil leadership roles.”

2017-18 Access and Inclusion Index

Speaker: Suzanne Colbert AM 

  • Participation in the Access and Inclusion Index demonstrates a sustained commitment to inclusion of people with disability.
  • Organisations at the beginning of their access and inclusion journey can use the Index to capture their current performance, roadmap the way forward and measure their success along the way.
  • Organisations that benchmarked their performance the last two years in a row increased their scores by almost 20% – a huge leap of progress from one year to the next.

"Through leadership and storytelling, we multiply the capacity for inclusion and sustained influence."

Best practice, next practice – discussion groups

Speakers: Fiona Davies, Life Without Barriers; Meg Dalling, ANZ; Michelle Butterly, ANZ; Clayton Trevilyan, DHS; Jodi Phillips, ATO; John Lennox, ATO; Mike Brett, DHS

  • What gets measured gets managed.
  • A Workplace Adjustments Passport documents approved workplace adjustments, eliminating the need for employees to repeatedly share their information and renegotiate arrangements every time they or their managers change roles.
  • Becoming a Disability Champion provides an opportunity to make a positive difference.
  • Use tools such as the Access and Inclusion Index to start looking at access and inclusion strategically rather than reactively.
  • To sustain commitment and progress, have a robust strategic plan in place that tackles challenges and identifies opportunities.
  • Accessibility is inclusion. Organisations have a responsibility to not accept software from suppliers that is not accessible.
  • Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool to break down barriers and create a culture of inclusion.
  • Information about disability can come from various data sources: The number of employees who’ve shared disability information; the number of employees who’ve requested a workplace adjustment; customer requests and feedback.

“Use your executive leadership to drive change and be at the front and centre of your strategic roadmap.”

Sponsor presentation – Attorney-General's Department 

Speaker: Denise Saunders

  • Let’s not focus on the label of disability.
  • Embracing people’s differences is the right thing to do, but also makes excellent business sense.
  • People should be measured by what they can do, not by what they can’t.

“'Normal' is a cycle on a washing machine!”

Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace 

Speaker: Marian Spencer, Black Dog Institute

  • Stress is not a mental illness, but a natural part of life.
  • Stress can be a motivator, but you need the right balance of control and demand.
  • Often when we get busy, the first things we give up are the things we do for ourselves. But it’s important to look after yourself, as it will give you more energy, make you more effective and bring you balance.
  • You need to understand your coping strategies to recognise when you’re becoming stressed.
  • Organisations need to encourage their employees to build resilience, understand mental health and look after themselves, but it’s essential that individuals take responsibility for their own wellbeing.
  • Every person’s daily self-care plan will be different.

“Taking time out for yourself is not indulgent, it’s important. It’s like turning your computer on and off again when it’s going slowly – sometimes you just need to reset.”

Speaker: Dr Peta Miller, Safe Work Australia

  • Australians deserve to work in healthy and safe workplaces.
  • Employers have a duty to create psychologically healthy and safe workplaces by managing risks, providing workers’ compensation, and implementing timely and durable return-to-work programs.
  • Our capacities to cope at work will vary every day, depending on our personal circumstances.
  • Designing work in ways that keep people healthy, safe and satisfied will help motivate, reduce errors and improve productivity.
  • Psychological health and safety should be managed in the same way as other workplace risks, such as physical or chemical risks – a systematic process of identifying the hazards, assessing the risks, control and review.
  • High demand and low demand jobs can be equally stressful. Both can involve poor workplace relationships, poor support and poor environmental conditions.

“Most people know what the big psychological issues are in their workplace. If you do, skip the laborious processes and jump straight into controlling them.”

Employment winning practice – Compass case study 

Speakers: Rosie McArdle and Natasha Caflisch, Compass Group

  • Build leaders who not only value, but welcome diversity.
  • Make diversity and inclusion second nature in your organisation through Disability Confidence training.
  • Sharing stories helps to promote understanding and awareness.
  • Increase engagement of people with disability by partnering with Disability Employment Service (DES) providers and treating them as part of your business.
  • Use the ‘See the possibilities’ campaign to advocate for people with disability in the workplace.
  • Employees with disability can boost your retention rates and save your organisation a lot of money based on the cost of rehires.
  • You don't have to set a target if you have other sources of energy in your organisation that you can capitalise on.
  • It costs nothing to expose your leadership team to the opportunity to contribute to the disability agenda.

“The positive impacts that come from inclusion of people with disability are felt by clients, customers and staff, and will build an organic energy in your organisation.”

Employment influencers

Speakers: Cathy Brown, Diversity Council Australia; Kate Nash OBE, PurpleSpace; Will Kestin, National Disability Services

  • Think about creative ways to obtain data; don’t rely on people to identify with the language of disability.
  • People with disability cost less, show greater loyalty, take fewer sick days and stay in their job longer than other staff.
  • Every employer needs to learn about and invest in inclusive hiring practicesaccessibility and workplace adjustments as a part of their future-proofing strategy.
  • It’s been realised that diversity alone is not enough, you need to enable people to feel included in their workplaces.
  • Inclusion helps employees feel respected and be themselves in their workplace. It enables them to connect with their teammates, contribute to the workplace and feel like they belong, which in turn helps them progress in their careers.
  • Even a little bit of inclusion at work helps. You’ll make progress with every step.
  • It is untrue that diversity and inclusion benefits people from target groups at the expense of people from majority groups. Research shows that diversity and inclusion benefits everyone.

Benefits of inclusion 

  • Three out of four Australian workers support or strongly support their organisation taking action to create a workplace which is diverse and inclusive.
  • People working in inclusive teams are ten times more likely to work effectively together, nine times more likely to innovate, and five times more likely to provide fantastic customer service.
  • People working in inclusive organisations are more likely to be satisfied and to have career development opportunities than people working in non-inclusive organisations.
  • People with disability working in inclusive teams were up to 30 times more likely to say they worked more effectively, six times more likely to say they provided excellent customer service and three times more likely to provide extra discretionary effort.
  • People with disability are much less likely to experience harassment and discrimination in the workplace if they are part of an inclusive team.

These findings were based on research conducted by Diversity Council Australia

Until next year

Thank you to everyone that invested their time to join us. We’ve received an outstanding response and we’re grateful for your commitment, enthusiasm and sustained efforts to drive inclusion of people with disability.

Our 11th Annual National Conference will be held at the RACV City Club in the heart of Melbourne on Tuesday 14 May 2019. To express your interest in sponsorship, please contact Steven Oesterreich, Marketing and Knowledge Manager, via

< Back