16 Nov 2017

Disabled school-leavers struggle to find work

1:38 pm on 16 November 2017

Advocates are concerned disabled school-leavers have no option but to work for free, with some spending years in unpaid work experience.

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More employers are telling the Ministry of Social Development they don't see disability as a barrier to employment, and that they just wanted the best person for the job. Photo: 123RF

With just a few weeks of the school term left, young people with physical or intellectual disabilities are struggling to find employment or enter tertiary education.

When he was nine, a golfball-sized brain tumour left Ricky Reeves blind.

Now 20, Mr Reeves wants to do a computing course next year, but the technology needed for him to participate is too expensive.

Instead, he's going back to school.

He said finding out he could not do the course made him feel really unhappy.

"My plan for me is to work with technology to help people, like, visually impaired people and [people with] all sorts of different disabilities."

He said people don't give him a proper chance.

"People need to realise that blind people can do the work they just don't have the vision to do it, but they do everything differently.

"I call my hands my eyes, because they do everything for me."

Mr Reeves has found unpaid work experience through a teacher at school.

In a recent survey by IHC three-quarters of students with an intellectual disability said they were not given the right support to enter the workforce.

IHC director of advocacy Trish Grant said if you asked someone with an intellectual disability what they most want in life, it was to work.

Some employers are taking people on for work experience, but some are staying in unpaid work for as long as six years.

"So in some ways they're being really hoodwinked, they say 'I'm going to work', but actually it devalues their contribution.

"It kind of puts them in a no-win situation where they want to be seen to be working and so don't want to stop, but also, they're stuck in poverty."

CCS Disability Action chief executive David Matthews said the end of the school year was a stressful time.

"It's also a time, unfortunately, that reminds disabled students of their lack of opportunities, and their lack of challenges available to them."

Many employers talk about their need to employ a more diverse group of people, but few take it further, Mr Matthews said.

"We need to go beyond the talk, we need to see positive, affirmative actions taking place, led by government and backed up by good actions of employers, so that we can change the current situation into a more positive situation."

Ministry of Social Development deputy secretary of service delivery Ruth Bound said there was a range of options available to help young disabled people find work.

More employers were telling the ministry they don't see disability as a barrier to employment, and that they just wanted the best person for the job.

Ms Bound said people getting a support living payment wanted to get a job, training or study could choose to join Opt In, a service that matched people with case managers experienced in finding work for disabled people.

She said there was a range of ways people could be supported once they had moved into work, including a service called In-Work Support, which provided regular phone calls to check how things are going for people at work, and at home.

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