As we approach IDPWD, I found myself reflecting on 2020; a year that has seen our lives turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic impacts have been profound, with jobs lost and businesses devastated. We’ve struggled through lockdown, with wide-ranging restrictions on many of the things that bring us joy.
Sadly, there have been disproportionate impacts on some groups who already face disadvantage, including people with disability, who represent nearly 18 per cent of Australians (4.4 million people) and 1.3 billion people worldwide.
The Interim Report of the of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of People with Disability observed “with the exception of people in aged care facilities, no group has been more profoundly affected than people with disability”.
Violence has increased, access to carer support has been impacted, and fear of the virus has exacerbated isolation for some with an underlying health condition.
Recent research from the Consumer Policy Research Centre also shows people with disability have been more likely to ask for payment assistance from their bank or service provider than Australians overall.
However, for all the challenges this year has bestowed, we have also seen great opportunities emerge. In particular, our changing workplace.
While flexibility, including remote working, is a long-established practice at ANZ, this year we have seen it accelerate like never before.
For some people with a disability, this can be life-changing. Reduced commuting for those with mobility restrictions, less time in the office for those with chronic illness, sensory challenges, or who experience anxiety in social settings.
As we connect with one another virtually, we are unexpectedly ‘visiting’ our colleagues’ homes and lives in a way that has opened up conversations and humanised the experience.
We are supporting each other, showing kindness and checking in like never before.
Anna Spiteri, Co-Chair of ANZ’s Abilities Network, says through all of this rapid change, it was important to keep encouraging line managers and people with any accommodations or adjustments in place to be brave and have really open and honest conversations.
“We needed people to be talking openly about how they were going to make the transition to working from home, or working in an entirely new location. We were moving pretty fast at the time and we didn’t get it right in every single case (even for people who weren’t using those accommodations) but we were confident people were able to get where they needed for the long term.”
Anna adds “I think overall we got better at having those conversations, which is really important as we consider moving back to the office on a more regular basis.”
The acceleration to digital also presents an opportunity to lift awareness of the importance of digital accessibility. While digital tools, applications, and platforms have enabled us to move swiftly to remote working, we must ensure they are designed and built with accessibility in mind - otherwise we risk leaving people behind.
Across ANZ, we have been making strides towards embedding Inclusive Design in our products, services and environments. This year, ‘Inclusive Design’ was formally recognised as a core skillset for every member of our design community, and we are upskilling our teams with accessible workshops, events, training and group coaching.
Additionally, all advertised design roles now require applicants to demonstrate they have an understanding of, and experience with, digital accessibility standards. This ensures we are attracting people with these skills and values to ANZ from the get go.
The banking industry is also embracing the move to digital signing for mortgage and other documents, with regulatory reforms fast-tracking the changes during the pandemic. The convenience is obvious - eliminating paperwork for both the bank and customer, reducing cost and time, and improving security. Accessibility benefits are also significant, offering greater independence and dignity to many people with disability.
For example, a person who is blind and uses assistive technology will now be able to read the document at the same time as signing it; a person with motor impairment who finds it difficult to sign with a pen, will also now have the option of using assistive technology to sign.