Aug 2017 Wauchope Gazette and Sydney Morning Herald
It took Julia Gilchrist 10 years and 200 job applications to finally get work that used her skills and gave her long-term career prospects. One in seven Australians like Ms Gilchrist has a hearing impairment, which is estimated to cost the economy close to $16 billion this year, according to a new report. Ms Gilchrist was born profoundly deaf and has a cochlear implant which allowed her to use the telephone from the age of 27. Despite having an honours degree in communications and politics, a good HSC result and being able to speak well, she spent 10 years looking for a job and has worked in 30 different short-term contract roles. Many of the jobs involved basic administration tasks, including filing and photocopying. "For the last 10 years it has been contract job after contract job and working in whatever role I could get," she said. "The sorts of positions that I was doing were really quite boring.” She says the lack of understanding and stigma around hearing loss in the workplace held her back from developing her career until she was employed in her current role at the age of 34. "Many employers were very supportive at the start and wanted to do their bit by hiring a person with disability," Ms Gilchrist said.
"But even the best intentions collapse without good planning and commitment to ongoing support."
New figures from Deloitte Access Economics show hearing loss affects an estimated 3.6 million Australian. This number is expected to more than double to 7.8 million by 2060. The Deloitte Access Economic report, commissioned by The Hearing Care Industry Association, found that hearing loss costs the health system $881.5 million, or $245 per person. The largest component of health system expenditure in 2017 was the occupational health and safety program ($521.4 million) and expenditure on hearing aids in the private market ($121 million). Productivity losses are estimated at $12.8 billion. Most of this was due to reduced employment of people with hearing loss, estimated to cost $9.3 billion.
Now aged 36, Ms Gilchrist is grateful for the opportunity to work as an internal communications co-ordinator with not-for-profit health fund HCF, which provides her with the support she needs.
Colleagues at her Sydney office need to get her attention before speaking to her or calling out from another room. Once they had her attention it is helpful for them to speak slowly and clearly.
"When I indicated I had hearing impairment and that is something we are going to have to work with, they were fine with that," she said. "Facing someone who is deaf when you're talking to them, finding quiet and well lit areas to have a conversation and recapping key meeting points at work can make a big difference."
A spokeswoman for HCF said Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed the workforce participation rate of people with a disability is much lower than the rate of 82.5 per cent for people without a disability.