Give disabled people a chance to show their skills

Disabled people need our support to reach their highest potential in society, writes Dunedin mother Tongsiew Ooi.

I am a mother of two adults who have Asperger and high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) respectively.

With the recent launch of the Ministry for Disabled People or Whaikaha, we are hopefully now turning a new page for people with all levels of physical and mental disabilities. It is indeed a privilege and honour for my children to call New Zealand their home and country.

Throughout their school and university years, their rights and dignity as human beings were/are reiterated, especially when life knocks them down because of their inability to present as normal kids/young adults.

We applaud the Government’s continuing effort to provide a level playing field for everyone in this society, as much as it is possible. In our experience, it is actually not possible to create a level playing field for disabled people. Why? Because, like all good intentions, it always fails at its weakest link.

Here is a scenario that took place last year in my disabled sons’ lives, trying to get a low-level job with a semi-government agency which was widely urging all New Zealanders (of various shapes and sizes, in fact — everyone) to apply for jobs over the Christmas rush.

Both applied and their applications were happily received at head office level, and they were contacted via phone to provide more personal information.

One of them didn’t have a driver’s licence (my ASD son has anxieties about road safety and prefers to bike around) but the head office human resources manager spoke to the branch (Dunedin) and told us that some minor changes could be made to their shifts to accommodate an individual who is very keen to work hard and do a good job but doesn’t have a driver’s licence.

The HR manager was aware that ASD individuals have very specific hardworking traits too.

Alas, when the local manager met my son, he was dismissed and the interview terminated because of the lack of a driver’s licence. The branch manager went so far as to say "head office doesn’t know how we work ... " and "how good he may be remains to be seen".

The humiliation and shame was devastating. When it was his Asperger brother’s turn, much as the head office was enthusiastic, again the local manager wasn’t a bit interested and refused to interview him entirely even though he has a valid driver’s licence and delivers pizzas for a living (because despite having a PhD he cannot get a decent job yet).

So, we have visions of equality and fairness for all, but the truth is that life is unfair. All it takes is an unco-operative middle management level which cannot see past the disabilities to glimpse the loyalty, desire to learn and work hard and eagerness to be of value to society that a disabled person has.

Management is put off by the extra effort required to train and equip them.

However, as my ASD son has proven, he is a very useful volunteer for data entry and even received a citation from Dunedin Public Libraries in 2020 for his contributions in that area. He cannot get paid for his data-entry abilities but he can volunteer.

Until everyone realises how truly difficult it is for a disabled person to reach his/her lowest (yes indeed!), only the very few outstanding ones can escape this invisible net and reach their highest potential in our society today.

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