“We’re very keen for other universities to do what they can to support their students. To us that means engaging with the Australian Network on Disability, because it’s one of the most efficient ways of helping students with disability.” said David Eckstein, Career practitioner, Swinburne University.
Swinburne University’s Accessibility Careers Hub is the first of its kind in Australia.The Hub is a collaboration between the University’s Careers Services and Accessibility Services to provide targeted employment opportunities for students with disability. Career practitioner, David Eckstein from Swinburne University, says the University wants to change the employment landscape for people with disability and that the Australian Network on Disability (AND) is pivotal in making that happen.
For the more than 70,000 tertiary students in Australia with disability, there is mass potential for the disability and careers sectors to join forces. The Accessibility Careers Hub aims to liberate its students from imposed notions of disability by validating their aspirations. As the first of its kind, David said Swinburne were unsure of what the Hub was going to look like but saw it necessary.
Swinburne’s AccessAbility Careers Hub was shortlisted for the Zero Project Awards 2020, a global platform used to share innovative practices and solutions for improving the rights of people with disability. It has also received Best Practice Award from the Australian National Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services and a special commendation from the United States National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Swinburne’s partnership with Australian Network on Disability has been particularly important in the University’s efforts to support the study and careers of their students.
“Whether you’re talking about the PACE Mentoring program or the Stepping Into program, AND does everything. All we have to do is introduce our students to AND” said David.
PACE Mentoring empowers and helps students with disability become workplace-ready by connecting them to industry professionals. Stepping Into is a flexible 152-hour paid internship program that improves the employability of students with disability by building their skills, experience, confidence, and industry connections. Through these programs, industry professionals build disability confidence and gain valuable insight into the value of a diverse workforce.
Since the Stepping Into program began in 2005, over 1500 university students with disability benefited from Stepping Into internships with over 140 employers. Stepping Into internships level the playing field between graduates with disability and those without.
David believes all University Career Services that have access to AND programs can help students develop their employability by engaging with AND programs. PACE Mentoring and Stepping Into are invaluable experiences for students with disability to prove to themselves and others that disability is the least interesting thing about them – they are just as capable and valuable as employees without disability.
Providing various modes of engagement for students also proves successful in Swinburne’s journey to fulfil the growing demand from students for pathways into real-world work experience. Every student experiences their disability differently and so, wherever possible, different ways of engaging are provided. David comments on the support AND offers universities and their students:
“You provide information online, through a webinar and then also face to face and are willing to come on campus to meet students and answer their questions. We know that really helps students engage with the opportunities that you offer” said David.
Along with AND,the Hub has collaborated with WISE Employment’s GradWISE program, so that Disability Employment Services staff can work directly with Swinburne students and help them access the program’s network of inclusive employers. Swinburne’s AccessAbility Careers Hub also connects regularly with employers and provides them with information about inclusive recruitment.
Other tertiary institutions across Australia have followed suit and introduced their own joint Disability and Career hub including the Australian National University. Swinburne have also had discussions with the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission to help them formulate their own guidelines about targeted career support for students with disability.
The ground has been well prepared by many colleagues in the disability sector and careers sector to improve employment outcomes for students with disability. A key role of universities is to broadcast employer demand for disability talent. David comments:
“Students will come. You have to start somewhere. Inclusion will look different in every university and that’s great because our circumstances are all different.”
“The work AND does validates students’ aspirations and makes practical contributions to students’ employability and transition to the world of work. This really gives truth to the statement that there’s nothing inevitable about exclusion.”
After seeing the impact of AND’s programs on their students’ course and career engagement, Swinburne encourages other organisations to get involved.