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Are we doing enough to help those with conditions such as autism and OCD to find work?

The ABC’s Employable Me series helped raise awareness about the discrimination faced by those with conditions such as autism and OCD who are looking for work. The show was a hit and challenged misconceptions around those living with neuro-diverse conditions.

Producer Jenni Wilks

In April, ABC Television ran a thought-provoking series that challenged Australia’s perception of hiring people living with neuro-diverse conditions. The result of the show, Employable Me, was ground-breaking and posed a number of questions for those working in recruitment.

Producer Jenni Wilks (pictured right) told The Brief the series followed a number of Australians with neuro-diverse conditions such as autism, Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

The series utilised the skills of a number of experts to help identify the hidden talents these jobseekers have to match them with jobs where those skills are needed.

This included harnessing the attention to detail a jobseeker with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder might have, or the deep well of knowledge jobseekers with autism can develop.

“The premise of the series was to challenge misconceptions and myths about people who are neuro-diverse and the enormous contribution they can make to the workplace,” Wilks explained.

“We worked closely with two experts; an academic researcher from the University of Sydney and a psychologist with unique expertise working with people with autism.

“They did a number of psychometric tests and assessments with the participants which focused on identifying their often hidden skills and talents. One participant’s test revealed he is in the top two per cent of the population for memory.

“Not only was this a huge boost to the participant’s self-esteem, it also indicated very clearly to the audience the often untapped potential of someone with a neuro-diverse mind.”

Employable Me was inspired by a BBC docu-series and Wilks explained the same team of producers at Northern Pictures who made the acclaimed Changing Minds Series 1 and 2 Demystifying Mental Illness were called in to help.

Wilks said “casting” for the series was done to ensure the wide spectrum of autism and other neuro- diverse conditions were represented and included both male and female participants, and jobseekers of different age groups.

The director and producers also worked closely with autism support organisations, experts, disability employment organisations and community and social groups.

Employable Me series director Cian O’Clery explained that when the search for jobseekers with neuro- diverse conditions began, they found they were hearing the same story time and again during the 12 months they filmed the series.

“We were looking for people with neuro-diverse conditions who wanted a job but were struggling to find one and the people we spoke to really wanted to work, but weren’t being given a chance,” O’Clery said.

“They felt that their disability was something employers couldn’t see beyond, and they were being rejected over and over again.”

O’Clery said that when he himself had been out of work, he experienced feelings of being useless, lost and depressed so he immediately empathised with those “not being given a chance”.

“I wondered what it must be like for our participants to deal with not only the lack of a sense of purpose, but that constant rejection,” he continued.

“As we got to know people more we realised that for many of them they have had to deal with rejection most of their lives. Today they are being rejected when trying to get into the workforce, but as children they were rejected by their peers, unable to socialise ‘normally’; they were bullied, teased, shamed for being ‘different’.

“Most of our participants had very few friends growing up, some had none at all. The impact that can have on people is profound.

“Yet here they are, allowing their struggles to find employment to be filmed and broadcast nationally. It was a brave thing to do, and hopefully by being a part of this series they will help raise awareness and understanding.

“In simple terms, I hope this series gives our subjects a voice and allows the audience to get to know them as people, not as labels.

“Hopefully employers out there will start to realise the value of diversity in the workplace, and see that beyond certain differences there can be great talents and gifts. But more importantly, I hope for a broader understanding and acceptance of people who are ‘different’ to the norm.”

Judging by the very positive responses on social media, O’Clery, Wilks and the team have certainly started an important conversation.

The series proved to be quite the sensation, reaching above average engagement on Facebook, #EmployableMeAU trending number three on Twitter during the broadcast, and there were 800 #EmployableMeAU tweets from 416 unique contributors reaching 4.4 million people.

“We believed it was an important message; we all deserve a role in society,” Wilks continued. “That’s what the series was about - striving to belong and play your part. To encourage people and specifically employers to look beyond first impressions to reveal there’s always more than meets the eye and hopefully encourage people to give someone a chance.

“The response to the series indicates a groundswell of interest and awareness. We also hope the series has provided encouragement to people to feel more confident in applying for positions.”

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