Businesses thrive on diversity, in all its forms

Diversity inspires innovation, creativity, and variety across every industry. Unsurprisingly, one third of Australian small businesses are owned by migrants. Despite the barriers of language and culture, people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds are naturally entrepreneurial. But how does this translate for multicultural Australians who also have a disability? Bilingualism, cross-culturalism and disability are all unique forms of diversity that should, in theory, enhance entrepreneurship. People within this intersection have a unique perspective of inclusion and ingenuity that many businesses and industries otherwise lack. After all, who is better placed to find gaps in the market than those of us living in the gaps? The Speak My Language (Disability) program is a podcast series sharing stories and resources from culturally and linguistically diverse communities about living well with a disability.

Summary

This month's guest blog post is by Vanessa Papastavros | Communications and Engagement Officer | Speak My Language (Disability). She reflects on the value for businesses from including persons with a diverse background. She reflects on the work of Speak My Language (Disability) and some of the storytellers who have shared their journeys and the importance to them of their money-generating endeavours. Our platform is currently exploring ways in which we might be able to collaborate with Speak My Language (Disability). If you haven't seen a game of Wheelchair Rugby, it's brutal.

Vanessa Papastavros
Communications and Engagement Officer
Speak My Language (Disability)

Diversity inspires innovation, creativity, and variety across every industry. Unsurprisingly, one third of Australian small businesses are owned by migrants. Despite the barriers of language and culture, people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds are naturally entrepreneurial.

But how does this translate for multicultural Australians who also have a disability?

Bilingualism, cross-culturalism and disability are all unique forms of diversity that should, in theory, enhance entrepreneurship. People within this intersection have a unique perspective of inclusion and ingenuity that many businesses and industries otherwise lack. After all, who is better placed to find gaps in the market than those of us living in the gaps?

The Speak My Language (Disability) program is a podcast series sharing stories and resources from culturally and linguistically diverse communities about living well with a disability.

A photo of Nazim Erdem, in a changing room, holding up his Gold Medal.This ambitious project amplifies the voices of culturally diverse people with disabilities, sharing advice and resources in over twenty languages.

Our focus is on living well with a disability, in its many forms and expressions. A lot of our storytellers chose to share stories about finding employment or turning a passion into a source of income. Finding a flexible and suitable source of work was key to living well, because it encouraged financial independence and built up a person’s skills and networks.

According to each of our storytellers, the pathways and resources that led to employment were unconventional. Often, harnessing natural talents and passions was the first step to finding fulfilling work. For our Turkish Australian storyteller, Nazim Erdem, finding work after developing quadriplegia evolved out of his passion for wheelchair rugby.

In his interview Wheels on Fire (Azmin Zaferi), he explains “playing wheelchair rugby gave me life.” Nazim took up wheelchair rugby as a form of rehab following his spinal injury at the age of 20. It not only helped him improve his mental and physical health, but also led to incredible opportunities. After representing Australia in multiple Paralympic Games, he took home gold in the 2012 London Paralympics. Nazim works as a Practice Leader at the Australian Quadriplegic Association (AQA) Victoria, and as a sports addict, he is also an ambassador for the TAFISA World Sport for All Games.

Nazim was not the only person we interviewed who was driven by a passion. Our Arabic speaking storyteller, Korial, has turned his woodworking hobby into a source of income. Korial was inspired to breathe new life into unwanted objects after resettling in Australia from Iraq. He was surprised that Australians frequently dumped otherwise repairable furniture on the roadside for Council clean-ups. Unbeknownst to Korial at the time, furniture-flipping for profit has fast become a social media trend and a booming microbusiness for many. Korial now takes items destined for landfill and repairs, restores or remakes them into new furniture—and even sells some of his pieces. In the future, he hopes he can put his bilingual skills to use as a translator, but for now, his woodworking is filling a void.

Korial working on furniture in his garage.For many people with disabilities, these kind of microbusiness opportunities are an excellent way to make some cash while pursuing a meaningful hobby. Korial is able to work from his garage at home, which suits him perfectly. Yet the modern notion of ‘microbusinesses’ is not new to Australian migrants, especially those who may have a disability or condition that can impede getting a job in the traditional sense. Migrants will typically draw on their existing skills and personal networks to find flexible income streams. One storyteller explains that her work as a seamstress was originally a way to keep her culture alive—now she’s self-employed and offers consultations for her community on traditional costumes.

For others, volunteering can open the door to exciting employment opportunities. This was the case for Nidhi Shekaran, who shared her story in Shattering Stereotypes (टकसालियों को थोड़ना). Volunteering and advocacy work enriched Nidhi’s life, even leading her to become a finalist for the NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards 2017. More significantly, volunteering became her gateway to finding employment at the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association (MDAA).

A photograph of Nidhi Shekaran.“I’ve accessed Carers NSW, I’ve accessed Vision Australia, I’ve accessed Guide Dogs,” Nidhi explains. “I now work for the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association. So, you know, all these services I was a member of before I worked for them. I’m a member of ten different organisations, so every little organisation can provide you support in some shape or form.”

For Nidhi, one of the best parts of her work is meeting and supporting people like herself, who are both culturally diverse and disabled. Due to her lived experience and connection to the multicultural community, Nidhi is uniquely skilled to understand the challenges of CALD communities. After all, being able to speak a language other than English is an incredibly valuable skill on a resume.

A photo of Tracy Wang with an assistance dog.Volunteering can also build new skills and networks, which is a valuable part of finding work. This was the case for Tracy Wang, who shared her story in Cantonese, explaining how she got involved as a volunteer for Guide Dog Australia and Vision Australia. As a result of her volunteering work, Tracy has served as an interpreter and peer support mentor, allowing her to build her own capacity while also expanding her social network. When it comes to volunteering, Tracy’s advice is simple: “As long as you’re willing to get your foot in the door, you can have an amazing quality of life.”

In addition to hearing directly from people with disabilities, the Speak My Language program also features guest speakers who share information in-language to support living well with a disability. Many of our guest speakers offer information about finding employment, accessing skill-building workshops, and improving self-advocacy. Their tips and tricks can be useful to people with disabilities from migrant communities who are looking to find work that suits their unique needs and skills.

We are currently exploring ways in which our platform could collaborate with Speak My Language (Disability).  We are very conscious of the intersectionality of isolation and ignorance.  Rather than trying to replicate existing bodies, we are looking for groups to collaborate with.

For many people in multicultural communities, the intersection between cultural diversity and disability can mean twice as many barriers to finding employment or financial independence.

This is exactly why the Speak My Language program came to be.

By harnessing the power of storytelling, we highlight the pathways to success that have been tried and tested. What we hear in these stories, time and time again, is that cultural diversity and disability can open the door to innovation, ingenuity, and inclusivity.

Speak My Language (Disability) is funded by Commonwealth Department of Social Services. The program is being led by the Ethnic Communities Council of New South Wales and is proudly delivered via an historic partnership between all State and Territory Ethnic and Multicultural Communities’ Councils across Australia. Visit www.speakmylanguage.com.au to find stories in up to 25 languages about living well with a disability.

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Like a lot of people who aren’t narcissists, I am not comfortable speaking about myself, but in this case, it is important to contextualise what Enabled.vip is hoping to achieve.  Perhaps my discomfort is a cultural and class thing, coming as I do from a working-class town in the south of England but I’ll attempt to get over it.  About 15 years ago, I turned a hobby (an interest in the institutional approaches to Human Research Ethics into something that could be monetised) – www.ahrecs.com.  This has grown to the point where we are one of the lead consultancy firms in the Australian Human Research Ethics and Research Integrity space.  During the last 12 months, we have worked in New Zealand and the UK.  In the last few weeks, we have been doing work in Kazakhstan and have quoted a client to do work in Lithuania, which makes us a very small international consultancy firm.  We are a for-profit company that has a strong social media following. During that journey, before it really, I have lived with Progressive MS, I am powered wheelchair mobile, a hoist transfer, confined to bed except for five hours a day and require a fair amount of support.

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