3 December 2022
By Shaun Pianta
It’s time to challenge the way we think about disability when it comes to employment in Australia to grow a more inclusive workforce.
I’m advocating for people living with disabilities, particularly in the employment sector because I, myself, have a disability.
I have a visual impairment, having lost my eyesight suddenly from a virus while holidaying in Bali when I was 19. Since then, I have faced challenges gaining meaningful employment. Initially, I didn’t know where to turn. For every opportunity I pursued, there was always some barrier.
So, as an avid snowboarder I turned to sport and became a pro skier with my mind set on becoming a Paralympian. And that’s exactly what I did. I competed all over Europe and North America, including the 2017 World Para-alpine Skiing Championships in Tarvisio, Italy and 2018 Winter Paralympics in Korea.
But after several injuries, the last being a torn ACL tendon in my knee, I retired from the sport. That’s when all my previous uncertainties about employment came flooding back. I had been essentially unemployed for about 10 years as a lot of that time I was skiing and before that, recovering from my illness. In saying that, the whole time I wasn’t working I was always searching online for jobs that might be suitable but really struggled to figure out my next steps, as I wasn’t sure what would be possible for me with my vision impairment. Fortunately, I found the right support through atWork Australia who have employed me as their Disability Employment Services (DES) Ambassador.
As a DES Ambassador I travel around Australia sharing information about the benefits of disability employment with job seekers, employers, and community organisations.
My goal is to help other people know that no matter their disability, they can find good work that can change their life.
Through my work, I’ve seen firsthand the fear of the unknown can lead employers to overlook people living with disabilities. But there is a largely untapped pool of talent, able and willing to prove them wrong.
For one thing, technology has come a long way and levelled the playing field for many people living with disabilities, whether that’s in their job, at home or when out in their community.
For me personally, assistive technology has increased access to information and supported me every day, with screen reading accessibility tools on my iPhone and display software on my computer.
There is also assistance for workplace modifications now available through the Federal Government’s JobAccess program, which means employers can make necessary changes to accommodate a person living with a disability at no cost or burden to their organisation.
Most importantly, everyone should have the opportunity to access meaningful and sustainable work that can support them and their families. Meaningful work is just as important for people living with a disability as it is for anyone else.
By sharing my story, experiences and struggles to find employment I hope employers will take a broader view and strive for a more inclusive workplace, and that other people can see that employment can be possible for them too. There are a lot of people and organisations out there willing to help.
Today is International Day of People with a Disability. To learn more visit: https://www.idpwd.com.au/
About the author
Shaun Pianta (born 24 February 1989) is a B3 classified visually impaired Para-alpine skier. He represented Australia at the 2018 Winter Paralympics. In 2008, while holidaying in Bali, he contracted a superbug virus that attacked his optic nerve and he lost 90% of his vision as a result. After retiring from sport following a knee injury, Shaun now works for atWork Australia as an Ambassador. In this role, Shaun shares the benefits of disability employment with people looking for work and employers, runs external training and work to maximise engagement and participation through community events and sponsorships; all with the purpose to connect more people and business so both can thrive.
For more information, visit www.atworkaustralia.com.au