One of the key messages to emerge from the recent Spinal Injuries Awareness Week, a national campaign focusing on the ability to rebuild lives after injury, is that business has an important role to play.
ParaQuad NSW, the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of NSW, is working to raise awareness of the need for more employment opportunities and better accessibility for people with spinal injuries in the workplace.
Max Bosotti, CEO of ParaQuad NSW, believes the first step to creating better opportunities for people with spinal injuries is educating business about how it can help.
“In terms of physical facilities, the ask is not great. It’s not hard to add a ramp if you’ve got steps, or to have accessible toilets. There aren’t a great deal of things that an employer has to do…in a lot of cases, there are grants that are available for employers to make modifications,” Bosotti said.
Bosotti believes there are taboos and stereotypes that need to be overcome.
“The moment you put someone in a wheelchair, there’s the idea that they might have some kind of intellectual disability. The actual fact is that when you have a spinal cord injury, as is proved by most of our members, intellectually there isn’t damage at all, you just have a physical disability that prevents you from walking,” he said.
ParaQuad NSW has been working to both educate business leaders, and directly help people with spinal injuries find work.
Scott Hutton, (pictured) who suffered a spinal cord injury following chemotherapy to treat leukaemia, is just one person the organisation has helped.
After spending over a year searching for a job without getting any interviews, Hutton volunteered with ParaQuad NSW to gain work experience. He then found a job with Pinnacle, an accounting firm.
“Everyone there has been really friendly, they don’t see the wheelchair, which I think is the key as to why they interviewed me. They just see me as another person in the office, and that’s great because there seems to be a general thing in society where if they see someone in a wheelchair they automatically assume you’re dumb,” Hutton said.
Hutton said that while Pinnacle’s office was already extremely accessible before he started working there, they made sure to alter the door to the disabled toilet and move supplies in the kitchen into lower cupboards for him to access.
The firm is also putting him through a Certificate IV in accounting.
Bosotti said employers should look at such examples and see the positive effect work has on the lives of people with spinal injuries.
“It’s a question of making people aware of the opportunity they have, and what a great difference it makes in people’s lives to get back to a normal situation. When I visit clients of ours, the thing I find most moving is the degree of isolation some of these people experience, because they’re often home-bound,” he said.
“Many of them have had traumatic experiences in terms of the emotional consequences of what they’ve gone through, and some experience a sense of isolation from society. Work is a great way of being able to be re-integrated. Work has a very high value to this community.”