Guest Blog: Gary Allen, CEO Enabled.vip
It has been estimated that 4.4 million Australians live with disability, 2.1 million of whom are of working age (Australian Network on Disability 2020). However, research by the Productivity Commission has found that people with disability are among the most disadvantaged in Australia (Productivity Commission 2011), with low participation rates resulting in reduced income.
Statistics tell us that 45% of people with disability live on, or near the poverty line (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2011) and that 95% of working-age people with disability who are unemployed or not currently in the labour force are finding it difficult to find appropriate work for a variety of reasons, including unavailability of workplace adjustments and sadly, discrimination.
1. You are a very passionate spokesperson for equity, diversity and advocating for equal opportunities in employment. Do you have any early experiences that shaped your drive to help others and work in this area?
I am a self-confessed workaholic and I have realised how much self-satisfaction and affirmation I get from operating my for-profit company. Having looked at uses of the Patreon platform, I have realised how it could be used to monetise a hobby or craft. As my own disability has progressed, I have been thinking of how I can continue to do gig-based work after I’ve had to give ‘normal’ work away. So, from that perspective, I have a very personal insight into how somebody who lives with a disability could continue to contribute and hopefully make a little money.
I am by predilection, a progressive, consequently the exclusion/prejudice/discrimination against people who live with a disability boils my blood.
My social media work for AHRECS (www.ahrecs.com) has shown me how powerful and audience-building daily posts can be. It occurred to me I should be using my platform and experience to make a positive contribution.
To be bleak for a second, I am very conscious that there will come a time when I will be less able to advocate for myself. So, building a platform like Enabled.vip is exactly the kind of thing I might hope will be around down the track.
2. Can you tell us about your early-stage start-up Enabled.vip and where the idea for your business platform was born?
The initial impetus for Enabled.vip came from myself and a friend attending a couple of events focused upon employment and disability. It strikes me that enterprise established via a sheltered workshop model may not always utilise the expertise that people with disabilities have, and that in 2021, there is a range of employment models that may better support this diversity in capability offering.
3. What services does Enabled.vip offer for people with disability and potential employers?
The services the platform will offer will include:
(ii) An internal discussion board/peer support board
(iii) A resource library and newsroom
(iv) Webinars and online events
(iv) Micro-courses (linked to Griffith University)
(v) A blog and quarterly newsletter
(vi) An online marketplace (The BAZAAR) linked to Fiverr.com
Our services will be billable to the NDIS as well as payable by other means for those people without an NDIS plan.
4. Has the coronavirus pandemic in Australia, and particularly in South East Queensland, impacted the employment prospects for people with disabilities – we are interested in both the good and bad aspects of this. For example, one of the good aspects may be working remotely from home, in one’s own environment with access to inclusive communication technologies such as Microsoft Teams, not needing to commute to work and flexible working conditions/hours.
This is probably one of the few times a person can genuinely say this, COVID-19 has actually been helpful for Enabled.vip. One of the things the pandemic and lockdowns have shown is working from home and remote connections work. This is precisely the type of work that would come from many of the Enabled.vip member endeavours.
What it did do, is for a time, it was almost impossible to find funding for something other than helping existing businesses survive and evolve for the new economic context. There are at least now more opportunities for social enterprises.
The sad reality is, employing someone who is living with a disability can be regarded as a luxury and the first thing to be cut when budgets are tight. The hope is, as more disability endeavours are set up, it will be recognised that the disability community have attractive and very useful skills/experience/knowledge to share.
5. Are you affiliated with the NDIS or Job Access? In what way?
We aren’t currently, but we hope to soon be NDIA registered. In the meantime, this might mean that we can only work with people who are plan managed, rather than agency or self-managed. Once the web developer has finished coding the platform, we will be writing to all Australian plan managers so that hopefully we will be able to accommodate people who are plan managed. We have drafted the necessary policies and key projects are planned to support our NDIA registration.
6. What are your goals for scaling the business and future expansion?
World domination? <Evil laugh> In all seriousness, Enabled.vip is based on four convictions.
(i) A person being able to start, operate and grow a venture is incredibly affirming, is a boost to dignity and self-worth and enhances their community connections.
(ii) With mentoring, peer support and resourcing most people have capacity to pursue their potential.
(iii) There is value in nurturing a community of practice here.
(iv) For our typical member, even a modest extra monthly income could be a game changer.
Future expansion One – Going national. Two – An Enabled.vip smartphone app. Three – Supporting a group to establish a sister company in another country.
7. What does dignity mean to you?
Dignity means looking at yourself in the mirror and recognising the value of the person you see. It also means you know that other people recognise your value.
8. Do you have a specific incident relating to dignity in employment that you would like to share, or feel others would resonate with and learn from?
When I first went to my job interview at Griffith University, I wasn’t then in a wheelchair, but did walk with a stick. When I went into the interview room, I consciously left the stick outside the door. My apprehension was the interview panel would judge me on the basis of the stick. In the weeks and months that followed, I realised it was my knowledge/experience/approach the panel was interested in and that my physical disabilities were irrelevant. Within the MS community I have heard plenty of horror stories of people losing their jobs or facing discrimination because of their illness and disability. I firmly believe the culture of an organisation makes a big difference. Griffith University has an established commitment to inclusivity. Sadly, the same is not true for at least some businesses/employers.
9. How do you work to advocate for dignity for yourself and others, particularly through Enabled.vip and as a business leader, researcher and academic?
Enabled.vip will definitely be a great opportunity to advocate on behalf of Australians who live with a disability and have a dream of establishing some form of enterprise.
I have done a bit of advocating as a former ambassador for MS Queensland. I have helped with the process of fellow MSers reaching out to their local member of parliament.
10. How has your journey with disability shaped the person you have become today?
This is a very interesting question. Prior to my first severe MS exacerbation I was on a particular career path. To be honest, I don’t know that would make the world a better place. My MS forced a change in my thinking and where I invested my passion and energy. If you will forgive the conceit, I firmly believe Enabled.vip could improve the lives of members and their families, as well as change how people think about the contribution Australians who live with a disability can make to society.
11. What work needs to be done to ensure everybody is treated equally and equitably in all aspects of life, particularly employment, hiring practises, workplace adjustments and entrepreneurship?
I am a firm believer in the importance of education to change a person’s worldview. Part of this education is seeing the contribution people who live with a disability can make with a little support.
12. Do you have any advice you would like to share with our readers in terms of seeking employment or starting their own business or side hustle?
Don’t hide your disability or be nervous about the person you are. Some small-minded people might prejudge or discriminate against you, but it’s best to know that up front, rather than once you are settled into a job. I think you can learn a lot about people observing how they treat vulnerable members of our community. In terms of a business, find a network to connect to and find sources of information/support. This is precisely what Enabled.vip aims to do.
Find out more:
Dr Gary Allen
0419 653 028
- The Importance of Dignity and The Dignity Project
- COVID 19 Impact and Future
- Media Release - Launch of The Dignity Project Citizen Science Initiative
- Preserving our dignity
- Share your stories and be part of meaningful change!