Having a disability is just another part of being human
31 August 2017 By Will Brodie
“Leadership is the art of the possible and leaders with disability embody that.”
When Llewellyn Prain says this, it’s worth listening. The Williamson participant has excelled in the law, her own writing and editing business, and as a company director.
...and she lost her sight in 2014.
Llewellyn says she is “still in transition, still adjusting” to being vision impaired.
“There’s such a huge amount of misunderstanding around disability in our community. I grew up with vision-impaired sisters and a vision-impaired mum but I didn’t really understand disability until I had one… so I think the more people we have with disabilities in leadership the better.”
She believes that understanding is best achieved through increased workplace participation for people with disabilities.
The Australian workforce participation rate is 83%. For Aussies with a disability it is just 53%, a gap Llewellyn says is far too big for such a wealthy country.
“We’ve done lots of different things in this country but we’re not closing this gap. There’s a lot more to be done.”
Those things include improving education pathways, increasing expectations for people with disabilities and helping employers realise the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
Llewellyn doesn’t just tell organisations that equity is important because it’s the right thing to do. She makes the business case.
“When you have people with disabilities in your workplace it will help with your product development in meeting the needs of all potential customers.
“We have an ageing population, there’s going to be more disability. You’re not going to be able to retain your skilled staff if you’re not disability confident as an employer.
“And people with disability are used to working around things and coming up with solutions to problems, which has potential for innovation.”
A diverse workplace is more agile and connected to its market. After all, one in five Australians has a disability and one in three of us have a personal experience of disability via a family member or friend.
Finally, it is proven that more diverse workplaces are better places to work.
“It improves workplace morale. People feel proud if their organisation is inclusive, particularly around the issue of disability.”
And those exposed to people with disabilities in the workplace “get a better understanding of what we can do instead of what we can’t do”.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme will be life changing for many people with a disability, but Llewellyn believes we also need to change attitudes.
“You don’t see many people with disabilities on TV… it’s not a normal part of our popular culture. Outside the disability sector, there’s not a huge number of people in leadership roles. And to get that you need skilling and you need education, you need a cradle-to-grave approach.”
Llewellyn walks the talk on such matters: she is a director of the Eye and Ear Hospital, Western Water, the Public Transport Ombudsman of Victoria and the Disability Services Board.
She took on such roles within a year of losing her sight. Laughing, she says that year was “an interesting time!”
“It still felt pretty raw at that time. To be honest, I felt really lucky to be working. It was hard but it was also positive to have that work to do.
“It took me a while to come to terms with having a disability, what it means to have a disability and what it means to be a leader with a disability.”
She has gained strength from the peer support of fellow Williamson participants with a disability.
“Peers with similar experiences become incredibly important when you have a disability. It’s been great to get to know some fellow leaders with disabilities.”
There are some things that will always be uncomfortable.
“I am shocked how often people think it’s ok to put an arm around me in the street and move me around. Would you normally do that to a stranger? No. Sometimes there is a kind of infantilisation of people with disability.
Llewellyn is a passionate supporter of leadership programs like Williamson.
“I think the best thing Leadership Victoria does is fire up diverse groups of talented people in our community to go forth and do great things with their lives.
“It gives them skills and gets them motivated to go out and make a difference.”
Llewellyn’s message about disability is simple and powerful.
“I see it as just another nuance of being a human being. Everyone has got stuff going on. It’s just that when you have a disability like blindness you can’t hide it.
“Having a disability is just another part of being human.”
A range of scholarships are available for those with disability to build on their leadership skills and confidence, and advocate for change through the Disability Leadership Program
The Disability Leadership Program developed by the Victorian Government in partnership with Leadership Victoria and the Disability Leadership Institute.