I encountered an access barrier when I applied for a volunteer role as an event medic at Wellington Free Ambulance. I was interviewed for this role and rejected because I was discriminated against.
I have worked for Wellington Free Ambulance before, in an administration role, and while working there I had good feedback from my co-workers and no one had voiced any concerns about my work or demeanor. During that time I told my manager and team about my disability in confidence, since it it not a visible disability and doesn't affect my ability to work, so they did not previously know about it. I had also volunteered at St John Ambulance for three years prior to applying to volunteer at Wellington Free Ambulance, and I have a Diploma in Ambulance Practice. I even had feedback from the recruitment team when applying saying I was a very strong applicant. So I was shocked to have my application rejected.
I was very surprised to be rejected from a position as a volunteer ambulance officer since I have two relevant qualifications and three years of experience doing this already; and I had worked at the company before and had a very positive experience and positive feedback. I asked the recruitment team for feedback on my application so I could improve it and hopefully apply again in the future, and I was told that I was a very strong applicant and they almost progressed with my application, but the reason they did not was because Wellington Free Ambulance had concerns about empathy. I have Aspergers syndrome, and this was not included on my volunteer application because it does not affect my ability to work, and disclosing it can open me up to discrimination. An unfortunate yet common stereotype of people with Aspergers is that we lack empathy, so to be told that this was the only reason for rejecting me from a volunteer role smacks of discrimination and ableism.
Ambulance work is something I am passionate about and love doing. I enjoy volunteering and making a difference in the community. I really wanted to continue helping people. Being rejected from this role for such a trivial reason was heartbreaking. I was so disappointed to be told that all of my experience, qualifications and relationship-building within the company was worthless because I have Aspergers. It's destroyed my passion for ambulance work and destroyed my trust in Wellington Free Ambulance as well. When I actually worked at Wellington Free Ambulance I had nothing but positive experiences, but this discrimination has tainted all of them. I have not applied again because I don't want to volunteer my time and energy for a company that thinks so little of me. I am scared to put down any references from them on my CV in case they stop me from getting future jobs. I don't even know how their recruitment team found out about my disability because this was only disclosed to my team in confidence. I would even hesitate in calling an ambulance if I needed it now, because how could I trust them to respect privacy laws and provide compassionate medical care when they have shown a complete and utter disregard for me due to my disability. That's not a company I want to potentially trust with my life.
I didn't see any point in taking the matter further because it was only a volunteer position, and it didn't seem worth it even though similar discrimination might have also happened applying for a paid position. It has since been pointed out to me that if I had held them accountable at the time it might have helped provide better opportunities for others. Perhaps I should have.
I thought that discrimination on the basis of disability was already illegal, but maybe we need new and improved accessibility legislation that extends workplace protections to include volunteer positions as well.
This is a story about the barriers many face. We're sharing it because we want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.
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