WaterAble supporting access for all

WaterAble is supporting positive outcomes for people with disabilities in the Australian water sector. Their programs maximise opportunities for people across the industry.

WaterAble is supporting positive outcomes for people with disabilities in the Australian water sector. Their programs maximise opportunities for people across the industry.

The water industry across Australia is one of the more diverse and inclusive industries, employing many women and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. However, the employment of people with disabilities has been growing in impact across the country.

Advocates would argue that there is more to be done when it comes to employing people with disabilities in any industry sector.  According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, working-age people with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as those without a disability (10 per cent compared to 4.6 per cent). They also have a lower employment rate (48 per cent) compared to those without a disability (80 per cent).

Many industry segments are seeking to increase opportunities for people with disabilities. The water industry is one such sector, and organisations like WaterAble are working to support people with disabilities.

Donald Hughan is the Chair of WaterAble, with Matt Iversen as the Deputy Chair. Both have been involved in WaterAble for several years and believe that education is a crucial focus of WaterAble.

“The role of WaterAble is to educate and create awareness to the broader workforce,” said Hughan. “We want to show the industry that people with disabilities can contribute in a meaningful way. People must learn how to provide that encouragement and create safe spaces for their employees.”

“It’s also about evening the playing field,” said Iversen. “I’ve felt disadvantaged by my personal circumstances. This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it’s the unfortunate situation I have found myself in. Diversity and inclusion initiatives can make a workplace more comfortable or more accessible, so it just creates something where people with disabilities have equal access and equal opportunity when it comes to applying for roles.”

How does WaterAble help?

Advocacy groups like WaterAble are essential for bringing awareness to the issues pertaining to the industry.

“We can help companies become aware of the barriers that impact people with disabilities,” said Hughan. “WaterAble can work together to break down those barriers and make things more accessible for people with disabilities. We also want to help them retrain, become employed and contribute to society. It all builds towards having fulfilment in what they are doing and enjoying what they are doing.”

One thing WaterAble focuses on is educating members of the water industry. While the sector is generally very reasonable, there are opportunities to learn more.

“Organisations like WaterAble can give a voice to people who might not normally have access to senior leadership within the water industry,” Iversen said. “These leaders might need to be made aware of reasonable adjustments and other things that impact the lives of people with disabilities. People like Donald and I have that lived experience, and we can speak about them to the industry leaders. While small changes have been made quickly off the back of our work, we know that things can take a long time.”

Supporting people with disabilities

VicWater has backed WaterAble in recent years. This collaborative approach has helped WaterAble to expand into all the water authorities in Victoria, and it has recently expanded to a national program. Within that, there are a range of opportunities available to its members.

“We do industry workshops, meeting with the Victorian water corporations,” Iversen said. “With our national expansion, WaterAble is looking to increase its reach. There are a lot of organisations that are making positive changes in hiring practices and environments in the workplace.”

These industry workshops came about through the leadership of Llewellyn Prain, the founder and now National Coordinator of National Partnerships for WaterAble. Prain is also the deputy chair of Greater Western Water. She is also in charge of the mentoring program, where she has mentored people with disabilities within the water industry.

One thing that the industry has lauded is the inaugural Leadership Program. Running through the second half of 2023, the four participants graduated in a ceremony at the end of November.

“These are people who are identified as having a disability and working in the water industry,” Hughan said. “They also want to build their leadership capabilities and develop that skill set. It’s been an excellent program.”

The program is designed for people with disability in the Australian water industry to help build their leadership potential. It also supports their personal and career growth. The program explored different leadership frameworks and approaches. It provides resources for further reading and exploration. The program is a safe place for people to explore who they are, what they want to achieve and how they want to go about it. It will also include practical elements to put the theory into practice.

Improvement for the future

Both Hughan and Iversen agreed that supporting people with disabilities so they can work is a crucial goal of the organisation.

“Work is such an important thing to people,” Iversen said. “It’s one of the big aspects of your life. Feeling comfortable and being able to contribute as much as anyone else is a massive motivator. I want to see people get the same opportunities that I’ve had, and I want that to be available to people with disabilities different to mine.”

“Corporations in the water industry can encourage people with a disability to apply for positions,” said Hughan. “People will find themselves fulfilled when they have a job and can contribute to society. They will learn life skills, receive a salary, and build their competencies to grow as a person.”

For more information, visit waterable.com.au

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