People with disabilities are preserving the memories of Australian Defence Force members as part of a massive project to digitise the files of ADF members currently stored at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne.
The documentation, which includes members’ personnel, medical and training files, photos and campaign logs going back to World War II, stretches 130 kilometres in length – equivalent to one and a third Kokoda Trails.
Sharon Harnett, the director of Defence Archives and Service Centres, said the project was necessary to ensure the files were protected from possible damage, stored securely, and to speed up the process for ex-ADF members and their families accessing the documentation.
“We get more than 43,000 requests a year to access information about our ex-members,” Ms Harnett said.
“That is often from ex-service affiliated organisations, relatives of members, historians performing research, and members themselves seeking information for various reasons, including compensation claims.”
It is an extensive process to ensure the privacy of the records, locate the physical file, digitise it, send it securely, and then ensure it is properly returned.
“We have a month to respond to these requests,” Ms Harnett said.
“We have been organically digitising about 100 metres of files a month, as part of our business-as-usual process, just responding to the requests we get on a daily basis.
“However, two or three years ago we identified the need to digitise all our files to the national archives standard to speed up the process, safeguard the information and ensure easier access for our customers.”
David Whitrod, 53, is one of the people working on the project preparing files to be scanned.
Mr Whitrod said he had experienced difficulties gaining employment after he was made redundant from a factory he had worked at for a decade and is now working at the disability social enterprise, Ability Works, assisting the ADF to digitise its files. Mr Whitrod lives with Asperger’s Syndrome.
He said going through the files and preparing them for scanning at Ability Works’ worksite in Kew had given him a sense of satisfaction in his work.
“You have to be very careful and pay attention as the documents can be quite old or crumpled. I lay them out, remove any staples or clips and fix any tears in the paper before they are scanned,” he said.
CEO of Ability Works, Sue Boyce, said Mr Whitrod’s attention to detail and care with the files made him a perfect fit for the mammoth task ahead.
“It’s wonderful that Defence is taking the opportunity to support the employment of people with disabilities, like David, and to engage them in a project of national significance,” Ms Boyce said.
“These are people who are hard workers, have skills, talents and knowledge but often find it difficult to enter the workforce and retain their employment due to lack of support available in workplaces and an unwillingness for employers to be flexible to their requirements.”
Ms Harnett said the Department of Defence was proud to support the employment of people with disabilities and were now looking for further opportunities to include other people marginalised from Australia’s workforce in the five-year digitisation project.
“Working with a social enterprise employing people with disabilities was really a proof of concept and now that we have set up the program, the quality of the work is great. We would like to continue to bring in a greater diversity of people into our projects, which helps continue the positive legacy of the members whose information is included in these files,” Ms Harnett said.
Ms Harnett added “Defence has a number of inclusive employment programs that provide opportunities for individual’s disability to work in Defence. These programs include the Defence Administrative Assistance Program, the Defence Inclusive Employment Program and the Dandelion Program.
“These programs have contributed to realising the Department’s commitments to improving the diversity of our workforce and inclusion in our workplaces.”
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