The Deafblind Employability Project: A step in the right direction

The United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities Article 27. States

“States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment, by taking appropriate steps, including through legislation……”

There is clear evidence that people with disability, particularly those with deafblindness, face greater barriers to employment than those without disability. The first global report on deafblindness identified ‘people with deafblindness are less likely to be working than people without disabilities across countries and less likely to be working than people with other disabilities in most countries’ (World Federation of Deafblind, 2018). In Australia, ‘Working-age (aged 15–64) people with disability are more likely to be unemployed than those without disability. The unemployment rate of working-age people with disability (10% or 113,000) is twice that of those without disability (4.6% or 544,000)’ (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020).

There are a variety of reasons for the high levels of unemployment of people with deafblindness, including barriers to accessing education and training, negative attitudes of employers and lack of access to reasonable and necessary workplace modifications and supports.

In a step towards increasing the capacity of people with deafblindness to undertake paid employment, Able Australia undertook the Deafblind Employability Project, funded by a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Information, Linkages and Capacity Building ((LC) Economic participation grant. The aims of the project were to :

  • build capacity of people with deafblindness to run Deafblind Awareness training
  • build knowledge of people with deafblindness regarding rights and responsibilities of working as a contractor
  • build greater awareness of the diversity and impacts of deafblindness both within the deafblind community and the broader community

The project was run in South Australia and Queensland from January 2020 to April 2021.

The project was also grounded in the idea of ‘nothing about us without us’ It is not uncommon for deafblind awareness training to be delivered by service providers, who may have extensive knowledge and experience in deafblindness, but who do not have deafblindness or any disability themselves. The project recognised the important and powerful impact of learning directly from people with deafblindness and hearing of their day to day experiences of living with deafblindness, and how it impacts on all aspects of their life.

Five trainees participated in South Australia and 15 trainees participated in Brisbane. All trainees were taught:

  • key topics to be covered in deafblind awareness training
  • What is an Australian Business Number, how to get one and how and why to use one
  • What is an invoice and what needs to be included on an invoice
  • Considering all costs associated with training to determine a training fee

Significant time and effort was put in by the state based project officers to achieve optimal access for all trainees in order to optimise their learning and participation. Access considerations included:

  • Booking preferred Auslan interpreters
  • Booking note takers / stenographers
  • Ensuring optimal lighting
  • Ensuring high contrast by having black screens behind Auslan interpreters, black cloths on tables, and high contrast power point presentations
  • Having training materials in alternative formats
  • Providing communication guides to assist in accessing all aspects of the training

All deafblind trainees attended 3 half day training sessions, and then all had the opportunity to present a component of the deafblind awareness training to an audience of community members.

Take home messages from the Deafblind Employability Project

  • People with deafblindness should always be included in presentations regarding deafblind awareness
  • People with deafblindness can benefit from the opportunity to learn together from each other’s varied and shared experiences
  • Considerable time and effort is required to prepare and set up training for people with deafblindness to ensure their communication and learning needs are adequately addressed so they can get the most from the learning opportunity.
  • Employers should talk to potential employees with deafblindness about the reasonable and necessary adjustments and supports they will require and not make assumptions about these before meeting with the person with deafblindness

Dr Meredith Prain
National Head of Research and Centre of Excellence – Deafblind