For Andrew Dodge getting a job at Figtree's Kmart was not only life-changing but life-saving.
"Having something to do, a way to make money and kind of just socialise a little bit," Mr Dodge said.
"It just came at like a great time because I don't think I've ever been in a worse place than I was and I wasn't planning on sticking around."
The 31-year-old who has PTSD and Asperger's syndrome is one of the participants who benefited from a pilot program that aims to increase job opportunities for people with disabilities and improve the accessibility and inclusiveness of workplaces.
The program by the Human Rights Commission was created in collaboration with the Disability Trust and Kmart.
Before Mr Dodge joined the program he applied to Kmart four times among many other positions.
"Honestly, all I needed was just someone to give me a chance to prove myself, just someone to open the door so I can like go for it and show them what I'm about."
That person was Figtree Kmart manager Julie Ralphs, who has hired four people under the pilot program.
"He was very open and honest. He wasn't comfortable in dealing in working with people, so we thought the back of the house area stocking area would be better for him," Mrs Ralphs said.
She encourages Illawarra employees to join programs like this and employ people with a disability.
"Just give people a go! Be patient and you can get the best employees through these programs," Mrs Ralphs said.
Australian Human Rights Commission President and Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM said they are thrilled with the outcomes of the pilot program.
"[It's] helped develop a model for how other employers can successfully employ people with disability," Emeritus Professor Croucher said.
"IncludeAbility Illawarra's employers identified and addressed organisational barriers to disability employment and set the tone for a positive employment relationship from the start by having a more relaxed and flexible recruitment and induction process which put participants at ease and ensured they felt welcome."
The comes as the Disability Royal Commission was handed down with more than 220 recommendations following five years of inquiry.
One of the recommendations is to set targets for disability employment in the public sector while another is to raise sub-minimum wages.
"The Australian Government should use the results of the review to develop a model and pathway to lift minimum wages payable to employees with disability to 100 per cent of the minimum wage by 2034," one recommendation states.
Working-age people with disability have a lower employment rate 48 per cent compared to those without disability 80 percent, according to a 2022 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
"The last few months has been life changing for a lot of the participants," Disability Trust employer inclusion co-ordinator, Laura King said of Illawarra's program.
"It's really tough for people with disability to be considered unfortunately within the workforce."
Andrew Dodge said the store has been welcoming and he's not the same person he was six months ago.
"I don't think anything in my life has ever helped improve my mental health more,
"Like being in the store everybody actually seems to notice and care. You're not just some random number that's just there to clock in and then clock out. It's quite welcoming."
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