“There are 4.4 million Australians living with a disability. 4.4 million Australians that you're missing out on if you don't make your workplaces inclusive,” said ABC’s National Disability Affairs Reporter, Nas Campanella, at the Embrace Difference Council's NSW State Chapter event hosted at Accolade Wines for breakfast earlier this month.
Campanella has been blind since the age of six months as well as living with a nerve condition, Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT), which affects the sensitivity and balance in her arms, legs, hands and feet. It took until she was aged ten to be diagnosed with CMT and it makes it impossible for her to read Braille as her fingertips are not sensitive enough.
Campanella became Triple J Radio’s newsreader at the age of 23 sharing news stories every day to an audience of two million people and when she did so, became the first person with full vision impairment in the world to read and operate the studio for herself live to air. For this to be a possibility, she worked alongside the ABC tech team to set up a system which included placing velcro dots on the radio desk's buttons and deciphering the audio from four separate channels - a screen reader from her laptop read out the stories and she would repeat the words, a clock marked the start and end time of the bulletin, she would hear her own voice played back to her as well as the soundbites from the individual news stories.
The impact of this achievement was huge. Campanella was contacted by journalist schools in Australia who had never thought it would be possible for their visually impaired students to become journalists. She also received calls from the US, Canada and the United Kingdom asking how it was done. Representation matters a lot.
She has worked in broadcasting since her Communications degree with the University of Technology, Sydney. When it came time to get her job, Campanella described the challenges as “depressing”. Interviewers were sometimes brutal with one asking, “How the hell can you be a journalist when you can’t see?”. Another apologised that “We don’t have a safe enough workplace for someone like you”.
It was not until she landed a cadetship with the ABC that everything changed. And it started with a question: “What do we need to do and provide that will support you to be able to do your job, so we can have the same expectations of you that we have of every other journalist that works here?”
Campanella described the process as collaborative: the ABC was willing to adapt. She was set up with screen reading technology and a cane instructor came to the office to show her around so she would be able to navigate the space independently. She also shadowed senior journalists until she was confident enough to go out on her own, create her stories and report back in.
After seven years, Campanella was ready for the next challenge. She called upon the ABC to employ a National Disability Affairs Reporter by putting a business case to them about the disconnection resulting from having people without disabilities report on disability affairs.
She said to them: "It's bad because you don't have a disabled person doing it and it's bad because you don't have disabled voices in these stories. You have non-disabled people speaking about issues that affect my community and that’s why the reporting is so patronising.”
She now reports on ABC Television News every night.
Inclusivity does not happen without a workplace, like the ABC, being adaptable and genuinely committed to making the workplace a more inclusive space. For people with a disability, the culture needs to be open to accommodating difference.
The bottom line of working in a place like this, says Campanella, is that the message is: “You’re welcome here, your needs are welcome, and you will be supported."
The challenge to other businesses is: what does your workplace need to do to ensure that all feel welcome and included?
The Drinks Association thanks the Embrace Difference Council's NSW State Chapter for organising such a memorable presentation and thanks also to Drinks Association member, Accolade Wines for hosting us.