Improving Employment in Arts for People with Disabilities.
The lack of inclusive and accessible employment for people with disability is of ongoing concern in Australia. Australia ranks a mere 21 out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for people with disability. In addition, people with disability are only about half as likely to be employed and more likely to work part-time, in comparison to their non-disabled counterpart.
The arts and cultural sector has long been regarded as able to present unique and appropriate opportunities for employment for people with disability. But the evidence on employment levels and opportunities reveals that this sector is also hesitant and perhaps less informed than it might be about employing people with disability. Artists with disability are more likely to experience periods of unemployment and to have longer periods out of work than other artists.
Recent research by arts organisation DADAA Inc – in collaboration with Arts Access Australia (AAA) – reveals great potential for improvement. The results below are based on national surveys of arts and cultural organisations, artists and arts workers with disability, and disability employment services.
Levels of employment
Arts and cultural organisations are well placed to be inclusive employers, with just over 55 per cent of arts and cultural organisations reporting that they actively encourage people with disability to apply for employment. Approximately 60 per cent of arts and cultural organisations report that they have interviewed and appointed a person with disability for a job.
In addition, almost one-third of the arts and cultural organisations surveyed have a person with disability on their board, committee or peer assessment panel.
The surveys revealed – perhaps despite fear around this issue – that access requirements for people with disability are surprisingly modest.
Both arts and cultural organisations and people with disability said that the most common access requests for employees with disability are job design or workplace modifications. There were some transport requirements. Flexible hours and modest lighting and computer adjustments were highlighted as the most common needs.
Approximately two-fifths of people with disability have no access requirements to work.
Type of work
Arts employment for people with disability involves a combination of working for an employer or being self-employed. Just over half work for themselves and have an Australian Business Number, and only one-third receives a wage or salary for their arts involvement or work for an employer. Just over half work part-time and about 40 per cent go unpaid.
There is a wide range of roles that people with disability occupy, with most a combination of ‘creative and support roles’.
Results also revealed the fact that the levels of commitment to the arts and creative practice are extraordinarily high. In other words, if people want to work in that sector, they tend to persist – despite poor conditions.
Most respondents have been working or volunteering in the arts on a long-term basis – some for well over five years, reflecting the commitment people have to working in the arts in various forms of employment as well as in unpaid creative practice.
Top strategies identified for creating arts employment opportunities
- Graduate recruitment programs, internships, residencies and apprenticeships
- Mentors, role models and case studies about artists with disability and arts careers
- Financial assistance to develop arts practice and education.
The question of volunteering was one that generated the most qualitative feedback of all questions asked. Results revealed clearly the double-edged issue that it can be. Volunteering is the second most common way of recruiting a person with disability, with 15.1 per cent of respondents finding work in this way.
Overall, just over 20 per cent of respondents with disability volunteer for an arts organisation or arts-related work and it is used as a strategy to gain paid arts employment. Artists or arts workers with disability often go unpaid or volunteer to gain experience and demonstrate their abilities to potential employers.
Results from the DES survey, however, revealed that there is an expectation by some potential employers that people with disability should accept employment in an unpaid capacity.
Top barriers to gaining arts employment for people with disability
- Limited job opportunities in the arts for people with and without disability
- Disability support services not promoting a career in the arts for people with disability
There was a fairly common thread in qualitative feedback that arts and cultural organisations feel under-resourced to employ people with disability. Many are under the impression that employing a person with disability is more arduous and costly than employing a non-disabled person.
Artists with disability noted their unwillingness to disclose disability to potential employers for fear of negative attitudes or missing out on work.
Use of government-based services to find employment ranked low and was often seen to be problematic by those who had used or are using Disability Employment Services. Only six per cent of respondents with disability are registered with government employment services, including a Disability Employment Network.
Artists with disability bring a unique perspective that can result in a richer national cultural product and a more inclusive and just society, were employment levels to rise and remuneration better reflect the contribution being made. Research clearly shows that employing people with disability is not an onerous task; on the contrary, access requirements are relatively modest.
One of the most fundamental policies that can assist arts organisations and artists with disability in enhancing employment opportunities is a Disability Action Plan (DAP) or Disability Action Inclusion Plan (DAIP). While research found that less than 40 per cent of cultural organisations had a DAP or DAIP, qualitative results also revealed that a large proportion had these policy documents in progress.
AAA, as the key national body working for artists with disability, is engaged in ongoing work with arts and cultural organisations to assist with creating employment opportunities. Contact CEO Emma Bennison at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0419 201 338 if you are interested in finding out more about how to engage people with disability.
For a short or full version of the Art Works report, visit Disseminate.
This research was funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport.
By Andrea Lewis | Friday March 1 2013
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ARTSHUB.