Employing a person with a disability is a higher priority for workplaces than ever before.
The twin forces of Dylan Alcott, tennis champion and Australian of the Year, and the Disability Royal Commission have raised public awareness of disabled workers to new heights.
Just over half of Australians with a disability are employed at 53.4 per cent, compared to 84.1 per cent of Australians without a disability.
For Alcott, lifting that rate is a personal campaign.
“People’s perceptions can be the greatest limitation for disabled people. When people with disability look for work, it’s often what we don’t see that is the biggest barrier – that of unconscious bias,” he has said.
“It is time to raise awareness of unemployment among people with disability and change perceptions of what they can achieve in the workplace.
“Everybody deserves meaningful, sustainable employment.”
Other disability advocates are determined to drive the changing, hoping a new initiative will boost numbers and bring disabled recruitment into the mainstream.
Recruitable is a partnership between the federal government, Get Skilled Access, a specialised disability inclusion organisation founded by Alcott, and recruitment company Randstad. It aims to employ 35 disabled people in its first year.
Some of Australia’s biggest businesses – including Coles, Tennis Australia, RACQ and Bendigo Bank – are already on board.
Steph Agnew, a consultant at Get Skilled Access, said employing a person with a disability was not as hard employers might think.
“You don’t need to necessarily change anything,” she said.
“It can be as simple as having a line on your job application saying, ‘If you require some adjustments to this interview process, contact this number or email’.
“And the person with disability is the expert on what they need. You don’t even have to think about these things you need to do – always ask them, never assume.”
Agnew said there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding employing people with disabilities, particularly around the cost.
However, the Employment Assistance Fund subsidises the cost of workplace modifications and equipment, as well as awareness training in disability, deafness and mental health.
Research also shows employment costs for people with disability can be as low as 13 per cent of the employment costs for other employees and people with disability take fewer days off, less sick leave and stay in jobs longer than other workers.
Other benefits include:
- Workplace morale is boosted in organisations with disabled employees, according to the 2016 Disability Confidence Survey Report.
- Disabled employees record productivity rates equal or greater than other workers, a study by Deakin researchers found.
- Customers like diversity. A survey undertaken by the National Business and Disability Council in 2017 found that 66 per cent of consumers will purchase goods and services from a business that features persons with disabilities in their advertising.
Yet despite good intentions, employers are held back by a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, said Madeline Hill, general manager equity, diversity and inclusion at Randstad.
“Lots of people want to do their part in providing employment opportunities, but they are worried about offending people,” she said.
“They also actually just don’t know what to do. They want to be an inclusive and accessible employer, but they don’t what that looks like, feels or sounds like.”
Hill said it all starts with a solid business case backed by workplace leaders.
“When the executive understands the business case and the benefits of hiring a person with disability, it sets the tone for the rest of the organisation,” she said.
“Then you need to find some advocates in the business who are keen to hire people with disability because they’ll be committed to making it work and they’ll do what it takes to make it happen.”
Some companies outsource the recruitment process and competency training, while Hill said others who cannot afford it will reach out to their network for tips and advice.