Producer, writer and editor Stephanie Dower has a vision for diversity and inclusion. As a filmmaker Stephanie is able to influence the portrayal of people with disability and as a consultant she can provide valuable guidance on inclusion and accessibility matters.
In this story we hear from Stephanie as she provides an opportunity to reflect on the impact real inclusion can have on creating an innovative, high performing and sustainable Community Services Industry and workforce.
“Inclusion is a major buzz word at the moment because society as a whole is realising the true value in it. As someone living with a disability, I know the value inclusion can bring to the lives of not only people who face discrimination but the whole of society, which is why it is a core value in my own work practices.
“We live in a diverse world and the more we work to ensure our workplaces and practices are inclusive, the better we can connect with and serve our clients, customers and consumers.
“Historically, workplaces and employers have proven too restrictive and inflexible to afford people with disability the same opportunities given to other able-bodied and neuro-typical people.
“Some of the barriers faced by people with disability include inflexible working hours, inaccessible working environments, lack of appropriate transport options, and probably the most damaging barrier, the stigma of having a disability and society’s attitudes towards them.
“I have encountered all of these barriers at some point in my life leading me to the choice of being self-employed. With my core values centred around inclusion, I work as a consultant on inclusion and accessibility in two ways.
“The first as a consultant working with organisations and businesses directly and through programs like QDeNgage.
“The second as a freelance filmmaker, influencing the way people with disabilities are portrayed in screen and media content. Through this process I work to change the way society sees people with disability and realise the value they can bring to not just workplaces but the wider community.
“Self-employment as a consultant and filmmaker has afforded me flexible working hours, the ability to work from any location (including my home), a diversification in my skillset and an opportunity for me to work with a wide variety of people, leading to change in attitudes towards people with disability.”
“One of the best steps toward making a workplace and its practices more inclusive is to seek the advice of someone who comes from a diverse and underrepresented background.
“Look at your workforce – whose perspective might be missing from that group? Someone from a refugee or migrant background? Someone who identifies with the LGBTQI+ community? Or perhaps someone living with a disability?
“With the world progressively becoming more inclusive, employers and business owners are making moves towards ensuring their own work environments are promoting and practicing inclusion. And a great first step towards making this happen is to seek the consultation of someone living with a disability.
“I have been working as a consultant for the last few years and it is so gratifying to give people practical advice that could make real world changes for other people living with disability.
“QDN, and their subsequent program QDeNgage first introduced me to consultation after I had been engaged with them on another project. Since first joining the QDeNgage team, I have consulted on a number of projects in a variety of settings, including CSIA’s Inclusion Ready Summit.
“Such opportunities not only allow me to give advice on accessibility and inclusion from my own perspective, but they also enable me to learn and improve on my own inclusive practices by interacting with and hearing from people living with other types of disabilities.
“This is a valuable lesson for anyone wanting to engage with a consultant. To get a true overview of ways to make your workplace more inclusive and accessible, it’s important to seek consultation from not just one person with a disability, but a number of people with varying types of disabilities including mobility, sensory, and cognitive.
“For example, as someone who uses a motorised wheelchair for mobility, I am not familiar with the experience of someone who is deaf and therefore cannot provide definitive consultation on inclusivity for them.
“In my own opinion, people with disability have been seen as one group for too long. This is damaging because disability is the most diverse minority in the world. Be sure to seek and value advice from a number of individuals living with disability, as each person faces their own unique set of accessibility barriers.”
“Not only are employers and business owners wanting to ensure their workplaces and practices are inclusive, they’re now realising the importance of inclusive messaging in social media and marketing content.
“How people are portrayed on screen and in the media heavily influences how society views them. If a person is not truthfully represented, this can skew how audiences see them in reality.
“This has been a big issue for people living with disabilities. In the past, people with disabilities were too often portrayed in a negative light, not accurately depicting life for the majority of people living with disability.
“Thankfully, due to the voices of people with disabilities becoming stronger and the world becoming more inclusive, these portrayals are beginning to change for the better, with more value being placed on authenticity. This is not just across entertainment mediums, but also in content created for brands, services, and organisations.
“Working as a freelance filmmaker, it is my hope to somewhat ‘normalise’ people with disabilities and work to deconstruct the stigmas society has placed on people living with physical, cognitive, and psychological differences. Seeing them first as people, before seeing their difference.
“Through my own production company, Dower Productions, I have been approached by a number of brands and organisations who are wanting to be seen as more inclusive and bring a level of authenticity to the messages they are putting out into the world.
“An example of this is the project My NDIS Journey, a vlog series I have been producing for Plan Partners. The series chronicles the journey a young man as he is first approved for an NDIS plan and the ups and downs he goes through within this new system.
“From the beginning, this was a project for people with disability by people with disability. Authenticity was crucial if audiences, most of whom are connected to the NDIS in one form or another, were going to connect with the series and gain personal insight from it.
“For so long, people with disability have been spoken down to and now finally, we’re creating opportunities to hear our own voices as people who not only understand the barriers we face in life but who also can appreciate the positives that living a life with disability can bring.
“As inclusion and authenticity become more prominent values in workplaces across industries, people with disabilities and other minorities are being given new opportunities to bring their own unique perspectives and innovations to employers and business owners.
“This not only brings economic and social benefits to the workplace but encourages others to review their own work practices to see how they too could adopt a more inclusive approach, leading to stronger connections with their clients and consumers, and more adept and progressive workforces for our modern world.”
Looking to engage a consultant for your next project or workforce? Read more from Stephanie Dower in the Engaging a consultant with a disability fact sheet.