Challenging agriculture to create accessible jobs

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Woman in white dress and Akubra stands with brown horse at sunset.

By Josie Clarke, Founder of Ability Agriculture, PhD Candidate at University of Sydney, and 2022 NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner.

Earlier this year Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott released NDIS 2.0 – A disability led plan for the NDIS, and one of its top recommendations is ‘Don’t make decisions about us without us.’ A statement which highlights one of the key objectives of Ability Agriculture – to ensure that the voices of people with a disability are heard when we talk about Australian agriculture.

Meaningful participation in the agricultural workforce by people with a disability is something I’m not just passionate about shining a light on, it’s something I want our industry to actively expand.

At the national Jobs and Skills Summit in September this year we heard that 53 percent of working-age people with a disability – be that physical, non-physical, visible or invisible – are in the labour force, compared to 84 percent of those without disability. However, this is a statistic that hasn’t changed significantly in my lifetime and frankly, it’s about time it did.

We know we have a workforce shortage in our sector, so why not start a meaningful conversation about accessible roles in agriculture and making more regional and rural workplaces supportive of people with a disability? I can only imagine what agriculture could achieve if it was more welcoming to every ability.

I started Ability Agriculture because of my Dad, who became a paraplegic when I was five and my Mum kept running our mid north coast of NSW beef grazing business.

It means a lot to me that other people are now hearing about and connecting to my family’s story. And it means even more that we are listening to people working in agriculture whose stories aren’t often heard. What that is leading to is an agriculture sector that’s open to talking about inclusion and diversity, including for disability, and that’s a wonderful to be helping make possible.

That said, there is lots more to be done on workforce inclusion and I believe it’s time for agriculture to address what it is that we can, and will, do to create more accessible job opportunities for people with a disability. Starting the conversation is the first step to meaningful change.

I want to grow Ability Agriculture’s role beyond an advocacy network to a dynamic platform where people can advertise and find accessible jobs in the agriculture sector. It would be so great to know there’s one central place for employers and candidates to go where they need not worry about disclosing a disability or asking for support or accommodations. It will also open up opportunities for people from outside the agriculture sector, who just happen to have a disability, to explore more options for finding fulfilling careers and projects.

So, I have just two items on my wish list for the year ahead – firstly that the voices of people with a disability in agriculture continue to be heard in our workplaces and communities, and secondly that rural and regional businesses create more accessible roles and opportunities for employment.

If you’re wondering how to help make this happen, send an email to ability.agriculture@gmail.com and we can start the conversation by sending you some ideas and information so your organisation can get more accessible.

As QLD broadacre farmer Nigel Corish, who was born with cerebral palsy which affects the movement of the right side of his body, said “Don’t be afraid to put your hand up. For most of my life I thought I was different and didn’t have the confidence to speak up or put my hand up for opportunities. Now I’m glad I did.”

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