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Why I’m bucking the ‘disabled people cannot work’ trend

As one of the presenters of De-Stigmatised with Radio Adelaide, Jarad McLoughlin is an up-and-coming voice in the Australian media industry. From his perspective as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, Ayme-Gripp Syndrome and other sensory impairments, Jarad shares his thoughts and advice on getting work, tenaciously following your passion and breaking into the media industry.

It can be said that if you have never worked an honest day in your life, it brings on a horrid feeling of discontent and rejection if you’re applying for jobs in a heavily neurotypical workplace. Unfortunately, problems with getting disabled people into casual or permanent jobs won’t address some of the issues employers are not interested in resolving, including digital convergence, diversity recruitment and awareness training.

In the radio broadcasting industry, particularly in community and commercial networks, people with disabilities still have no influential, managerial or strategic voice. This misaligns the balance of representation and inclusiveness in having a range of presenters, producers and directors/managers with good skills and knowledge in both presenting and using technical equipment.

When I started writing and sending off my resume in my early 20s, I was quite unadventurous in what I wanted to do. From my earliest memories of being educated at special schools as a young child, thinking about my career goals was never in my inner subconscious. Even when I was 19 years old, I didn’t believe that I had enough talent to host and produce a radio show without supervision.

“I had to persist in fighting to be heard by an industry that still has a very low percentage
of employees with a disability or impairment”

In 2005, I spent six weeks at 5RPH 1197 AM (now known as Vision Australia Radio Adelaide), where I received some mentoring and guidance on working in a radio studio and transferring calls for on-air and pre-recorded interviews. After that, I tried to apply as a volunteer with several community radio stations spread across metropolitan Adelaide, but not one took me on.

I didn’t fare better with employment agencies, as nobody could offer me any advice or refer me on to work that catered to my skillset. While undertaking my Bachelor of Media undergraduate degree at the University of Adelaide, I approached Radio Adelaide 101.5 FM about doing a 60-minute program on disability-related content, but was knocked back due to having no proper framework. Often it occurred to me that management misjudged my interests in joining the station, but ableism never interfered with my later involvement at Radio Adelaide after completing my training in May 2016.According to 2014-15 figures from the Australian Government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, of those aged 15+ who identify as being autistic 42% say that they are not in the labour force, while 24% say they are employed and 34% are unemployed. Of the 2.1 million Australians with disability who are of working age, only 1 million have found themselves a job, and over one-quarter of autistic jobseekers are involuntarily unemployed.

A recent survey conducted by Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) discovered that most adults with Asperger’s Syndrome can’t get access to the support they need in achieving their career goals and aspirations. I had to persist in fighting to be heard by an industry that still has a very low percentage of employees with a disability or impairment. I was lucky – eventually Radio Adelaide did listen, and over the last five years I have involved myself with the radio station. My immersion at Radio Adelaide has made me to be more self-confident and self-assured in what my short- and long-term goals are in my career: to become the first radio presenter or journalist who is openly autistic and gay.

Since then I have dabbled in some freelance journalism work with SBS, writing opinion editorials encapsulating the realities that Australia’s disability community faces daily. I do it without worrying about censoring or retracting what I say with my argumentative and personified opinions.

“I believe that disclosing who you are to potential employers is
important in promoting your work ethic”

Back in February this year, I applied for the ABC’s Media Cadetship Program as I thought I was ready to venture into the next stage of my career. When writing out my cover letter about having Asperger’s Syndrome, Ayme-Gripp Syndrome and other sensory impairments, tweaking or distorting the truth didn’t seem all that appealing to me.

I believe that disclosing who you are to potential employers is important in promoting your work ethic, particularly when marketing your eligibility and productivity as a reliable employee. When deciding what to put into your resume before sending it off to businesses, double-check that everything is accurate and factual. The worst thing is to have two or more referees who are unable to be contacted by phone or email.

My advice to future disabled jobseekers, including those who are autistic, is to refrain from suppressing or erasing your disability or impairment. If an employer is verbally or passively ableist, you shouldn’t sacrifice your mental health for financial stability. Also, remember to be well groomed and punctual when going to job interviews, as I guarantee you will be looked at more favourably. Who knows, you might just get that congratulatory call-back saying that you have been hired.

Jarad McLoughlin is a presenter on the radio program De-Stigmatised on Radio Adelaide 101.5FM. He was written for SBS Australia and tweets @jazer1985 

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