The Illawarra has a huge untapped workforce that is likely to be more productive than the existing workforce, generally take less sick days and stay in a job longer..
Australian wheelchair basketballer and tennis star Dylan Alcott told 280 people at a Disability Trust conference and 250 at an Illawarra Connection dinner on Tuesday how people with a disability are important consumers and great employees.
Alcott said he loved what The Disability Trust was doing with the inaugural Your Voice Your Choice conference about empowering people with disabilities as well as their parents and carers.
"This is absolutely awesome," he said.
"I wish more cities would do things like this.
"I really look forward to listening to the stories of people with disabilities, what they are doing and what we can improve on to try and get more people with disabilities out there as employees".
Alcott also attended the Wollongong Hawks game against Cairns Taipans on Monday night.
He said it was nice to experience the Hawks first win of the season and not being on the losing side like he was in so many games against the Roller Hawks at Shellharbour Statium over the years.
"I had never been to the WEC before and it was great. It was good to see LaMelo in the flesh. I think I am the lucky charm. So I better come back next week".
Alcott spoke of how everyone in the disability sector and the community can change lives by asking questions and making a bit of effort.
He let everyone in the Novotel Grand Ballroom touch one of his gold medals and spoke of how the reason he took up tennis was as the highest profile Paralympic sport it helped him help society change the way it views athletes with a disability.
They are elite athletes who train just as hard. And the fastest serve in a wheelchair is 171km/h
Alcott said sport helped him achieve his true passion which is to try and change the way people view people with a disability.
He said personally the hardest thing to get over is a lack of expectation of what people think you can do or achieve. But the reality is nothing could be further from the truth.
He recently started a consulting company called Get Skilled Access that helps governments and the corporate world better understand people with a disability.
The goal is to not only improve products and services but highlight the value of employing people with a disability.
"Over 4.5 million Australians have some form of physical, intellectual or sensory disability," he said.
"That is one in five people which in the Illawarra that is 60,000 people".
Alcott said each of those people was a consumer who wants to make independent choices and do things like everyone else. He said it also meant there are a huge number of people in the region who could be kicking goals for local business.
Presently only 54 per cent of people with a disability manage to get a job. The unemployment rate is double for people with a disability.
- But those who do get a job are 90 per cent more likely to be equal to or more productive than an able bodied person.
- They have nine less sick days a year.
- And they tend to stay in a role a year longer than able bodied employees.
"That sounds like a bloody good employee to me. But only 54 per cent can find jobs," he said.
"I think there needs to be more education and understanding to change the perception and give more people with a disability a chance".
The Disability Trust's Edward Birt said some people attending the two day conference came from as far away as Western Australian.
He said there were a lot of shared concerns among people living in rural communities about the impacts of things like costs of transport and access to support.
"That is all driving people's interest in making the NDIS the best it can be," he said.
"So we are really thrilled to be able to facilitate this opportunity for people so they can share experiences and learn from each other.
"And we are seeing networks form. There is some real energy coming out of this that we can build on".
- Friends of The Disability Trust help out with new wheelchair accessible bus for the Illawarra
- Why Australian wheelchair basketballer, tennis star and motivational speaker Dylan Alcott is coming to Wollongong
- Dr Michael Ryan remembered as an advocate and champion for people with a disability and their families
- How Wollongong shone bright for local children with disabilities
- How the skills shortage is growing in the Illawarra and what some employers are doing about it
- Hear how little Ruby who has a rare degenerative disease has been given 30,000 reasons to smile