As far back as kindergarten, I was good at art. During primary and high school, I drew and painted every chance I got, and took every art class available. I loved the feeling of sitting in front of a clean sheet of paper with sharp coloured pencils and drawing.
After completing studies in visual arts and film and television at RMIT and the Victorian College of the Arts, I began working in the Arts, as I always imagined that I would.
This did not last long though. When I was 23, my eyesight began to change, and rapidly diminish. After some years of avoidance about the state of my vision, I went to an eye specialist and was diagnosed with Macular Dystrophy.
I had to change careers in order to remain employable. I didn’t expect that the journey of vision loss would lead to uncovering a love of advocacy and social justice, but it has.
As Vision Australia’s Government Relations and Policy Advisor, I spend every working day creating a fairer playing field for our community. One of the bleak truths for a person with vision loss is the multiple employment barriers the blind and low vision community face. More than 50% of people who are blind or have low vision are unemployed, under employed or unable to work.
A key barrier impacting fair entry into the employment sector for people with disabilities is accessible workplaces. Naturally, it’s assumed that every employee requires the tools and resources to perform their job – but the same expectations are not afforded to jobseekers with a disability.
That’s why Vision Australia is leading the sector push, with the support of 24 disability organisations, to influence government to make public sector workplaces accessible to people with disability. To achieve fully accessible workplaces, the Australian Standard for the procurement of accessible ICT (AS EN 301 549), which is voluntary, must be mandated by law.
If mandated, widely promoted and monitored, it would ensure all office equipment in public service workplaces are accessible to people with disability. In turn, it will help increase employment opportunities for this greatly under-represented group.
With the NSW Government taking the lead by mandating the Standard late last year, we know that change is possible. But with little evidence of the Standard being widely promoted or followed elsewhere, Vision Australia is advocating for change across the remaining states.
Our lobbying and campaigning efforts have made an impact. The Digital Transformation Agency has pledged to promote and closely monitor accessibility guidelines. We’re making steps in the right direction but there’s much work to do in order to make this a reality.
As a person with low vision who is leading a successful career, my employment story is still regarded as the exception – this needs to change. I want to be part of change so that my community and all people with disabilities have a fair go in the Australian workforce.