Listen: Zoe Brissett chats to Dwayne about the benefits of a more diverse workplace.
As a high school student, Zoe Brissett learnt that if she simply gave everything a go, and didn’t let a disability stop her from trying new skills, she could change the attitudes of the students around her.
“I realised I could change how people thought, and show that people with disability can do the same things,” she said.
A decade later and with a full-time job in marketing, Zoe’s still an activist—changing the culture with her can-do attitude and teaching employers about the benefits that employees with disabilities can bring to the workplace.
Zoe, who has both cerebral palsy and a hearing impairment, chatted to Hope 103.2’s Dwayne Jeffries about the challenges she faced when she was first looking for employment.
Firstly there were the practical difficulties to do with accessibility. While Zoe doesn’t have a wheelchair, her cerebral palsy does create some challenges with walking.
“If we talk about building and access design, that was a barrier,” she said. “If a building doesn’t have a ramp or provide a good way to get to the bathroom or isn’t close to public transport, that is a challenge.”
She also found that stereotypes in the minds of recruiters were a barrier to employment.
“When I went through job interviews I found that if I told them about my disability, their attitude would change,” she said.
At one job interview, she even heard the recruiter saying to a colleague, “We are only doing this interview to be seen as doing the right thing”, she told Fairfax.
The Great Benefits of Employees With Disability
Workplace law around disability says that you don’t have to disclose your disability to a potential employer unless it directly affects your ability to do the tasks required for the job. When Zoe was in the job market, she learnt that it can be better to keep quiet about disability until a potential employer has had a chance to meet the candidate.
She believes employers need to be educated that people with disabilities have far more to offer than they realise.
“Some people might see people with a disability as too slow, or they might see the workplace modifications required as too costly,” she said. “But my advice to employers is to give people a chance to be interviewed and to see them as a person – for what they can bring to the job and the value they might bring to your company.”
“People with a disability do bring a huge benefit to organisations. Not only in terms of increasing the diversity of your work talent pool, but also in terms of getting a better understanding of what your wider stakeholder base might need from you.”
“Give people a chance to be interviewed and to see them as a person…People with a disability bring a huge benefit to organisations”
When it comes to overcoming the practical barriers to disability, things have come a long way. For example, Zoe, who has a hearing impairment, can now use a speech recognition app to take notes for her in large meetings, with live captions scrolling on her screen enabling her to read what is being said. It’s technology that wasn’t available when she was in high school 10 years ago.
As for work ethic, Zoe said employees with a disability can, in fact, be more dedicated workers than others, as they have had to overcome barriers to get into a job in the first place.
“People with a disability do want the chance to work, and they are willing to have that opportunity,” she said.
Zoe’s got a vision to see attitudes change through education.
“I think if we had [a campaign] around diversity for employers, not just in disability but [also for] other people groups that haven’t been given the opportunity to work – that would be good,” she said. “It comes down to diversity training…and an understanding of the benefits diversity does bring to the workplace.”