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“Our focus is on enhancing the equitable inclusion of people with disabilities as employees, customers and stakeholders,” Suzanne Colbert

Born out of an award that motivated a brother duo to set up a network of employers on the issue of disability, the Australian Network on Disability (A.N.D.) is a not for profit organisation whose mission is to ensure that disability is looked at as a business model. Today its 100 strong membership boasts of big names, from Qantas to McDonalds to I.B.M. A.N.D. believes in knowledge sharing among members while still building individual business cases. India can learn much from this experiment to bridge the gap between employers, who say there are not enough qualified people with disabilities, and prospective employees with disabilities who say they do not get enough opportunities. In an interview with Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S., Suzanne Colbert, C.E.O. and one of the founders of A.N.D. talks in depth about their vision, work and what it takes to form an employers network exclusively on disability.

D.N.I.S.: Tell us something about the Australian Network on Disability when and how was it formed and the vision of the Network.

Suzanne Colbert: The Australian Network on Disability (A.N.D.) is a not for profit organisation taking a leadership role in advancing the equitable inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of business. Formerly known as Employers Making A Difference, A.N.D. was born out of the Prime Ministers Employer of the Year Awards in 1998 when a small N.S.W. firm, Benbro Electronics, owned and operated by brothers Steven & John Bennett, won the state and national small business award for their leadership in the employment of people with disabilities. John & Steve wanted to do more than just put their award on the shelf and so they approached me to discuss the possibilities. Steve, John and me put together a peer group strategy designed to enable already successful employers of people with disabilities to help others to do the same.

A.N.D. is resourced by member organisations and does not receive any government funding. We are also not an employment agency - but work on the business-side to improve internal systems and procedures to ensure members are inclusive of people with a wide range of disabilities. Their highly skilled disability consultants assist member organisations to understand the business benefits of employing people with disabilities, and welcoming customers with disabilities. Our vision is to be recognised as the peak employer body helping to create a disability confident Australia and our mission is to provide expert advice and services on disability to employers, government representatives and industry bodies.

D.N.I.S.: Give us an outline of the work that A.N.D. does?

Suzanne Colbert: A.N.D. works with Australian organisations to help them develop their skills and knowledge around disability-related issues as they relate to their business.

In 2003, the Employment Charter on Disability was launched as a guiding framework to help businesses achieve best practice. The Employment Charter outlines ten actions that can be implemented over time and is recognised internationally. This Employment Charter is also the basis for membership to the Network. The focus is on enhancing the equitable inclusion of people with disabilities as employees, customers and stakeholders, and this is achieved by:

1. Creating opportunities of mutual benefit for people with disabilities and business

2. Facilitating an employer network on disability for mutual learning and information sharing

3. Helping organisations become compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (1992)

4. Assisting businesses to implement the Charter for the Employment of People with Disability, a set of 10 principles that assist in achieving best practice

5. Holding events that provide knowledge and networking opportunities

6. Developing customised tools and specialist publications

7. Providing an information line on disability

8. Providing Disability Awareness, Customer Service, Mental Health and H.R. training

A.N.D. currently has over 100 members nationwide. There are four tiers of membership, with the goal being that member organisations progress up the tiers as they work through the Employment Charter.

D.N.I.S.: What are the services you offer?

Suzanne Colbert: A.N.D. assists members improve their disability confidence in order to access people with disabilities as employees, customers and suppliers in a range of businesses and locations through:

1. Disability Strategy Formulation

2. Disability Action Plan facilitation and evaluation

3. Networking seminars and conferences

4. Development and review of Reasonable Adjustment policies

5. Review of recruitment and selection processes

6. Review of site and website access

7. Training of H.R. practitioners, managers and staff

8. Dedicated programmes for internships and mentoring (Stepping into... & Willing & Able W.A.M.)

9. Publications and online resources such as webinars

A.N.D. works closely with member organisations to assist them to build their individual business case for proactively including people with disabilities, and help them build disability confidence through the delivery of unique products and services.

Members work together with A.N.D. disability consultants so that they can confidently recruit from the entire talent pool, minimising the effects of skills shortages both now and in the future. A.N.D. also assists members to recognise and remove any barriers that may exist in their recruitment processes, which can unintentionally block talented and skilled people with disabilities from applying. In todays business landscape, it is very important for Australian organisations to reflect the diversity of the community in which they operate.

Logo of Australian Network on Disability
Logo of Australian Network on Disability

D.N.I.S.: How does one get a membership? Do you have any criteria for this?

Suzanne Colbert: Organisations are eligible for membership if they are operating a legal entity and they are committed to recruiting and retaining people with disabilities. Member organisations will use the network to improve internal processes rather than as a leveraging tool for new business opportunities. As such organisations whose primary purpose is to assist people with disabilities into employment are not eligible for A.N.D. membership. Platinum, Gold and Silver memberships work with their Relationship Manager for 35, or 22 hours of consultancy or programme hours to help them achieve their goal.

D.N.I.S.: If anyone wanted to start such a network in India, how should they go about it? Any suggestions?

Suzanne Colbert: Find two or three enthusiastic employers and build on their knowledge and experience!

A.N.D. has been fortunate to have a close working relationship with the United Kingdoms Employers Forum on Disability (E.F.D.), and has benefited from their knowledge and experience in establishing the Australian network. A.N.D. has reciprocated this by assisting the development of a similar network in New Zealand through sharing their own experiences. The U.K., Australian and New Zealand networks all have very different business models, however the end goal is the same to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and assist businesses to reap the benefits of employing people with disabilities.

The most important step in establishing an employer network is to deliver services and programmes that are relevant and make sense to employers. Establishing a business model is the next crucial step. A.N.D. is resourced by members only, and does not receive any government funding, which allows us to remain impartial and independent of government. Consulting with both employers and people with disabilities in setting the goals and objectives of the network is also an essential element, as is establishing how the success of the network will be measured.

While A.N.D. does not formally offer consultancy services on establishing employer networks for disability, we willingly share our experiences in setting up of a network.

Click here to contact the Australian Network on Disability

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