The Disability Royal Commission commissioned a report from the University of NSW and Flinders University. The title is Research Report – changing community attitudes to improve inclusion of people with disability.
It is a general report that does not specifically address the employment issues that are the focus of this blog. However, I recommend a careful reading because the principles articulated here are applicable, and they are discussed in more detail than I will address.
The literature review covers academic research in the past 3 years. This is important because it lays a foundation for observations and opinion based on recognised research.
I am going to reflect on 3 ideas that struck me as most compelling.
“The implications for government are that attitudes and behaviour both matter, both should be targeted for change, and both should be measured. The facilitators of attitude change are:
- Active presence of people with disability
- Targeting multiple levels and multiple types of policy and interventions
- Long-term approaches with adequate resources
- Measuring and monitoring change.”
- Changing attitudes requires a sustained strategic approach.
- Active senior leadership and staff with disability are indispensable elements in that approach.
- That strategic approach must include an accountability mechanism which monitors and measures progress.
What an attitudes survey tells us
In the Attitudes Matter survey of community attitudes towards people with disability conducted on a representative panel of the Australian population, most respondents reported positive or inclusive attitudes, with only a minority reporting overtly negative attitudes.
Nevertheless, 78% of the respondents agreed that people without disability were unsure how to act towards people with disability. It appears that, regardless of people’s intentions, actions based on uncertainty can have adverse impacts for people with disability.
However, the survey could not measure implicit attitudes or bias. Also, it could not explore intersectionality, which is the impact that different types of impairments, identities and social positions such as gender, race and ethnicity, class and sexuality can have on attitudes and behaviour.
There were 3 key takeaways for me:
- There is a minority that has negative attitudes toward people with disability. And there is no reason to assume that such people are not in senior leadership or management positions in an organisation.
- An absence of confidence in engaging with people with disability can lead to unintended acts of exclusion.
- The impact of intersectionality is not fully appreciated. There is a potential for multiple biases to cluster on a single individual with disability.
The importance of leadership
When leadership positions are places where people demonstrate their commitment to change attitudes, then the interventions initiated from other levels are endorsed and gain momentum. Also, when people with disability hold leadership positions throughout organisations, the attitudes of others change, as seeing people with disability in leadership positions becomes an expectation and a common experience.
Second, this facilitator requires change in structures, with leadership about disability embedded in organisations. People in leadership positions in government, business and social and cultural organisations need to be incentivised to communicate about the importance of attitude change, and they need to be incentivised to appoint people with disability to leadership positions. Effective leadership also contributes to resisting any counterforces to change.
Third, leadership needs to require co-design with people with disability. Examples of structures required for this type of leadership are inclusive governance and management, including employee resource groups and disability staff networks; and building campaigns and interventions from grassroots priorities. When interventions to change attitudes adopt co-design processes, they validate the collective voices and lived experience expertise of people with disability in the way the interventions are designed and conducted. These processes can effect change by joining the power of life stories to specific calls for action. Co-design activity needs to avoid risks of tokenism. Instead, it needs to connect deeply to structural change.
My 3 key takeaways:
- When leaders affirm their demonstrable commitment to change, other efforts at change are boosted. And it would be better if leaders with disability were seen to be committed to change – alongside those with no disability.
- The sector must ensure that there are ‘incentives’ provided to leaders to be engaged in active support of change. What those incentive might be is another discussion entirely.
- Leaders must require co-design with staff with disability in all reform efforts – and in sufficient numbers to avoid appearance of tokenism. This means at least 3 people with disability in any co-design exercise.
Academic reports can be hard to read if you are not accustomed to the academic voice. But this report does a very good job of articulating key ideas drawn from contemporary academic research. This means that these ideas are not mere opinion, but well-grounded and thought through arguments. They should become the foundation of advocacy for change.
I recommend the reader downloads the report and goes through it with a highlighter draw out the ideas that are most compelling to them. There is little point in inviting senior leaders to read a report of this size. I don’t think the executive summary is fit for purpose in the context of an organisation. The report is too broad for that. It is necessary to develop a targeted summation of the findings to fit the organisation.