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We know the benefits of employing people with disability, so why aren't we doing it?

November 28, 2015


December 3 is International Day of People with Disability and each year the UN announces a theme. The theme for 2015 is: “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities”


Whilst it’s great to have a day of recognition, as a society and as employers we’re not doing anywhere near enough to assist more people with disability into meaningful employment. It’s time to step up and stop talking and take some action.


It’s 2015 and yet we’re unfortunately still at the point where organisations employing people with disability make headlines in the Australian Financial Review – really? Good on them but I would much prefer it to be so mainstream we all go – “sure but we do it better” and sadly even the wrong terminology is used.


Australia’s employment outcomes for people with disabilities are poor, despite low levels of unemployment and changes to Government employment programmes over recent years. In Western Australia more than 17% of people have a disability. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the labour force participation rate for people with disability in 2012 in Australia was 52.9%, close to half the rate for people without disability (83%). This means that over a million Australians of working age with disability were outside the workforce.


The Director of Equal Opportunity in Public Employment 2015  Annual Report states that only 2.2% of staff in the State Government Sector had a disability and this has decreased every year since its peak in 2012 at 4.8%. In Local Government the figures are even worse with only 1.4% of indoor workers and 3% of outdoor workers identified as having a disability.


I find this quite shocking and I think employers in all tiers of government – Commonwealth, State and Local – should be leading the way and increasing employment opportunities for people with disability, especially as these organisations are often working in and with communities.


There are so many stereotypes and misconceptions about what ‘disability’ might mean and not enough real effort into breaking down these barriers and just giving people a go. It’s often not until individuals experience their own disability or have a family member in this situation that it becomes real and they become advocates – not good enough.


There are many reasons why organisations and people benefit from employing people with disability –

  • focusing on diversity is an effective way for an organisation to become more innovative and therefore create a competitive advantage;

  • diversifying the employment base can help businesses to be seen as employers of choice and their employee profile may better reflect the diversity of their customer or client base; and

  • employees are likely to respond to opportunities with enthusiastic and loyal service

But I don’t think it should be about diversity targets and getting a competitive advantage I think it should be about employing people with skills that we need but looking beyond our normal lens of recruitment.


Why aren’t organisations employing more people with disability? What are the barriers? How can we break these down? What needs to be done in your workplace to ensure our workforce represents our community?


How can we as HR Professionals promote and assist this recruitment? I think it is up to us to step up and lead the way – work with specialist employment agencies to make this happen, get involved in community groups, organise corporate volunteering, just get on with it.


It just shouldn’t be that hard. Most people with disability don’t even need workplace modifications, and if they do, there is generally money available from government funding to do this. Yes some jobs need modification but so what?  This is 2015 and we should all be doing what we can to assist our businesses grow and utilising all available employment options and potentially changing someone’s life.


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