- by Tara Fitzgerald
- The Guardian
- Issue #1978
The Disabled and Neurodivergent Workers’ Alliance (DNWA), an organisation of neurodivergent and disabled workers both employed and unemployed, held their first AGM online in late August. The group – formed in Victoria but operating nationally – intends to bridge the gap between trade unions and disability advocacy by being active in both communities. It acts as advocates for the disabled and neurodivergent by participating in political and industrial actions.
The alliance challenges the traditional view of disability. It embraces the social model of disability as opposed to the medical model. The medical model of disability conceives disability as deficiencies in a person, whereas the social model acknowledges differences in ability for each individual. It values the importance of all abilities in society and aims to address barriers that prevent differently-abled people from participating and contributing fully in society. The social model of disability aims to elevate the functionality of all members, empowering and including the differently-abled.
The DNWA’s objectives are to support the interests, rights and welfare of disabled and neurodivergent members of society. It endeavours to promote accessibility in the workplace and other organisations such as trade unions, to improve and protect conditions in the workplace, whilst also advocating for improved conditions for disabled and neurodivergent unemployed.
The term neurodivergent refers to any variation to what is considered normal functional cognition. This could include but is not limited to variations in sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. These differences could be inherited genetically, could be a result of illness or injury or could be developmental. Consideration and adjustments should be made for all variations to support and value contributions made by all workers.
Under the capitalist system, the “value” of an individual worker is heavily linked to their ability to produce. Western society frames itself as supportive and inclusive, however deviations in ability can lower production and can therefore be seen as less desirable as employees. The reality is that workers are complex human beings with needs and differences. Unsupportive workplaces and practices can lead to impaired mental cognition, further impacting productivity in a negative feedback loop. Workers may be unable to access treatment during work hours or be unable to discuss these concerns with their employer. Despite the ever-increasing rise in mental health conditions due to increasing insecurity in employment, workers will often forgo their own needs and avoid voicing concerns in fear of it impacting job security.
The DNWA is also active in protecting the rights of unemployed neurodivergent and disabled workers. Through collaboration with union and advocacy groups the DNWA was influential in the outcome of the “Fairer NDIS For All” campaign. The organisation was invited to present to the Retail and Fast-Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) on obstacles disabled and neurodivergent workers face daily. This presentation called for several important considerations such as the implementation of “Disability leave” into the National Employment Standards (NES), the call for privacy when negotiating employment conditions, and increasing employment for disabled and neurodivergent people. The DNWA is also one of the many organisations to call for the abolition of the wage assessment tool under the supported Employment Services Award. This is a scheme that based payment of disabled workers against the productivity of able-bodied workers enabling employers to pay disabled workers significantly less than their able-bodied co-workers. This is yet another tool to devalue the contributions of the disabled workforce.
There are significant challenges faced by neurodivergent and disabled people in day-to-day life that abled bodied and neurotypicals have no lived experience of. There are additional obstacles faced in the workplace and in obtaining and maintaining disability support payments from the government. When taking into consideration the large number of Australians that will suffer from mental illness at some stage in their lives, ensuring inclusivity and fair working conditions for the disabled and neurodivergent is vital in improving living conditions for all members of society.
To join or support the DNWA please visit the website dnwa.org.au. Membership is currently free; meetings are held once a month and all members are invited to join.