Deaf, autistic, gay man had a mental breakdown after being discriminated against at work

Cody Skinner speaks at conferences around Australia about his experiences living with disability.

Cody Skinner, a deaf, autistic, gay man from Brisbane, told a Royal Commission he was hospitalised by a mental breakdown after being subjected to workplace discrimination.

At a hearing on Monday (4, January), Skinner recalled his experience of discrimination at a previous job.

He told the hearing that his boss would clap at him whenever he made a mistake, despite his telling her it was inappropriate.

“This would happen every day while I worked there,” he said. “I asked her to tap instead of clapping [but] she was still clapping.”

His psychologist accompanied him to work to give him advice when the workplace started causing him anxiety. His boss apparently did not like this.

“That night, I had a mental breakdown, admitted to the hospital because of what happened that day by the boss,” he added.

Skinner also told the commission that he was receiving a lower rate of pay than his colleagues at the same workplace.

The company classed his position as a “supported” role for his first few shifts, which meant he received almost half of the wage he was expecting.

He expected “20 odd dollars an hour” but instead only received $11 per hour.

He said: “I got so angry and felt like I was treated with no equality or respect. I felt like I should be getting a normal wage.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not, it should be the same wages.”

Cody Skinner feared he would be discriminated against for being gay.

Skinner also used to worry about “if the workplace would accept” his sexuality.

“It was challenging, I feared I was going to be discriminated [against] every day,” he said.

“I was worried about [others judging me for] the way I dressed, the way I did my hair and all of that.”

Skinner’s experiences at work have led him to start his own business: Cody Skinner’s Empowering Disability into Ability. He runs workshops to educate people on the deaf community and on Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN), which was his first language.

He told the commission: “I think the world is becoming more understanding and more accepting. I want to encourage other people with disability to come out and that it’ll be okay.

“It’s okay to be different and we are all proud, in Australia we are all equal.”

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is investigating how Australia can better support disabled people and protect them from violence and exploitation. The final report is due to be submitted to the Australian government in 2022.

The Australian government has made a number of steps forward for diversity in recent months, including abolishing the “gay panic” defence nationwide in December.