Work for all. Period.

by Megan Graham

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Along with millions of other Australian women of childbearing age, I regularly suffer through a monotonous set of symptoms which I’ve oft-thought is a slight disadvantage professionally (and socially). I get very tired, my coordination skills abandon me, I get nauseous and experience some impressively persistent abdominal cramps.

Yes, I’m talking about my monthly menstrual cycle and no, I’m not sorry if bringing it up offends you. Menstruation is perfectly natural, necessary and inevitably going to happen to half the population at some point.

My female friends and I regularly discuss the drag of the monthly cycle; the days when you haul yourself to work because you don’t feel comfortable explaining to male colleagues why you’re under the weather; the fact that it can be a genuine health issue but it doesn’t really get treated like one. Just because it happens every month unfortunately doesn’t make it any less unpleasant or any more bearable.

Occasionally I’ve grumbled to myself about the fact that my male counterparts don’t have to endure a similar spate of monthly symptoms yet are given the same amount of sick leave. Despite this astute observation, I’m not calling for laws to increase the amount of sick leave apportioned to women in the workplace. I’m merely relating this experience to something that I personally rarely have to give serious consideration to – disability.

This monthly inconvenience is pretty minor in comparison to an incapacitating health problem that encumbers a person every day of the month. I can only imagine what it would be like to experience menstrual symptoms all of the time – and horrible as the thought may be, it doesn’t compare to not being able to read or be independently mobile, for example.

How would it feel if, despite having the necessary skills, ability and interest, I was unable to do my job because of a disability? And worse, what if I knew it were entirely possible for me to do the job with the help of facilities and supports, but that these weren’t being made available to me?

I think I would feel outraged at the unfairness of the situation, particularly if broader society didn’t seem to really notice or be working towards having these facilities available to people like me.

That’s why so many Australians welcomed and celebrated the coming of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which aims to guarantee a level of financial support to people with a disability. It’s Government-funded and yes, as has been pointed out by its opponents, it’s costly at potentially up to $15 billion a year.

But this is hardly a good reason to oppose it considering the more we make it possible for disabled people and their carers to join the workforce, the more people there will be paying taxes. According to the Bureau of Statistics, there were 2.2 million Australians of ‘prime working age’ (between 15-64 years) with a disability in 2009.

If just 2% of people with a disability were able to join the workforce, the economy would benefit by $6 billion per annum (according to a study by National Disability Services and the Queensland University of Technology). The same study found that if 20% of carers could return to the workforce, the return would be $13 billion per annum.

When looked at that way, it’s hardly an irresponsible or reckless investment by the Government from a fiscal point of view. While it may seem costly, it’s ultimately an investment in our people and our productivity as a nation. It also says that it’s important to care about the wellbeing and quality of life of Australians whether they’re disabled or not.

It’s a big step in the right direction for a nation that considers itself modern, progressive and competitive. Indeed, the question for some is whether the NDIS will do enough to help improve the situations of disabled Australians – perhaps more is required.

Regardless, the next time I pop some ibuprofen and get out the hot water bottle at work, I’ll try to remember the many Australians out there who want to work and have so much to contribute, but who have a lot more standing in the way of their employment.

And I’ll feel proud of the fact that we’ve finally made the decision to invest serious funds into enabling disabled Australians to join us in the workforce.

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