A gay Brisbane man who lives with deafness and autism spectrum disorder has told a Royal Commission of the challenges he’s had coming out and facing discrimination at work.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is currently underway. This week, seventeen witnesses are speaking about their experiences in employment.
Among them was Cody Skinner, a gay First Nations man who lives with deafness, autism spectrum disorder and has had some mental health challenges.
He told the hearing on Monday about the challenges and discrimination he has experienced in getting jobs.
“I really struggled to get a job by myself. When I disclosed my disability during interviews a lot of people rejected me,” he said.
“I found this really hard and it affected my mental health.”
Skinner told the hearing on Monday that in one workplace, when he made a mistake, his boss would clap at him even after he told her it was inappropriate.
“She was trying to get my attention and trying to yell at me,” he said.
“This would happen every day while I worked there… I asked her to tap instead of clapping [but] she was still clapping.”
He said that role affected his anxiety and his psychologist decided to accompany him to work to give him advice, which angered his boss.
“That night, I had a mental breakdown, admitted to the hospital because of what happened that day by the boss,” he said.
The employer didn’t tell Cody Skinner his job had a lower rate of pay
At that same job, Cody Skinner said he wasn’t aware he was employed in a “supported” role – at a lower rate of pay – until he’d worked several shifts.
He said he noticed his pay was “very different” than expected and his payslip read $11 per hour.
“I got so angry and felt like I was treated with no equality or respect. I felt like I should be getting a normal wage,” he said.
He said he was expecting “20 odd dollars an hour like my previous job.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not, it should be the same wages,” he said.
Mr Skinner said his various experiences at work have made him a passionate champion for change.
He now runs his own business running workshops educating businesses on the deaf community and AUSLAN.
Gay man feared discrimination at work
Cody Skinner also reflected on his experience of coming out as a gay man with a disability.
“Before I came out, I knew I was gay but I was waiting to see if the workplace would accept it,” he said.
“It was challenging, I feared I was going to be discriminated [against] every day.
“I was worried about [others judging me for] the way I dressed, the way I did my hair and all of that.”
He continued, “I think the world is becoming more understanding and more accepting. I want to encourage other people with disability to come out and that it’ll be okay.
“It’s okay to be different and we are all proud, in Australia we are all equal.”
‘Focus on ability, not the disability’
The commissioners have heard almost half of the discrimination complaints the Human Rights Commission receive are from people with a disability.
Many of these complaints relate to employment.
Cody Skinner told the hearing he wants to see a “focus on ability, not the disability.”
“We all come along a different road or path, we all have different talents and different skills,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the National LGBTI Health Alliance told the inquiry about its EmployableQ Inclusion Toolkit.
The project provides organisations with a range of resources and tools to assist them to become more inclusive workplaces for people with disability.
The three-year Disability Royal Commission, established in April 2019. The inquiry is examining all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation against people with disability in numerous settings.