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Make the most of the “invisible workforce”

New Zealanders urged to make the most of the “invisible workforce”

Employers who close the doors on people with mental or physical disability are the ones who could be missing out, says President of the World Fellowship of Schizophrenia Jim Crowe.

As a keynote speaker at the Celebrating Creative Spaces Conference, Jim Crowe is urging New Zealand to stop writing off people with a disability when it comes to the job market.

“A person should never be written off. The person who wants that chance, with whatever disability, is going to do twice as well as the person who goes in and is not challenged. They will make sure they can do the job, as people know what they can and can’t do.”

The Celebrating Creative Spaces Conference, which starts in Wellington today [note: Feb 25], has been organised by Arts Access Aotearoa. It has attracted more than 300 delegates, and celebrates what has been achieved at Creative Spaces around the country and looks at ways to build on this success.

The spaces are throughout New Zealand and aim to encourage people who wouldn’t normally have access to the arts to create and perform. These include those with psychiatric disabilities, physical disabilities, refugees and migrants, prison inmates, the elderly and children.

Jim Crowe says people who are living with a disability often have a strength that would be valuable to a workplace.

“Society needs to look at how strong those people with disabilities are. They contend with daily life in a way that we probably can’t even imagine. There has been a tendency for people to think that if someone has a disability they can’t contribute. There has been some movement with this, but we do need to make further progress.”

He says overseas examples show that this can work, and believes New Zealand needs to follow suit. For example, in Japan a four-star hotel has opened where half of the staff has a mental illness.

“In New Zealand we tend to have a look at things and the cost and say it is too much. What I have seen overseas has started from nothing. They are doing so much with so little where we tend to do so little with so much.”

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2/Jim Crowe

He says every person has a right to be given an equal chance.

“I want to see people out there with a disability being treated as equals just like anyone else. Society needs to allow people to try. I would hope that people would allow for lateral thinking and let people give it a go.

“It is part of the workforce that is almost invisible. We should be looking at people who have the same rights and citizenship as anyone else in the country and they should be given those rights.”

He says tapping into some of this potential has to be good for the whole community.

“If we have a foundation where people have good access to medication and care then we can look at further ways of including people with disabilities in the community, which includes the workforce. Of course this means they become a potential taxpayer which has spin-offs.”

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