Practical things helping to improve employment of people with disability

November 26, 2021
6 cartoon scenes: A woman wearing headphones and using a camera. An amputee woman in a wheelchair at an office desk. 2 men in uniforms in front of a stack of boxes. 1 holds a clipboard. 1 holds a box. 2 men standing in an office. 1 wears sunglasses and holds a cane. 2 people standing at a reception desk and one person behind the desk. A person sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen showing 4 people on smaller screens.

This week, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is exploring the systemic barriers to employment that people with disability face, and how employers and regulators can address these.

We know that the underemployment of people with disability is one of those “issues” that has, unfortunately, been there for a very long time. Finding out what needs to change to make real improvements in this area is critical.

As an employer, we know the response won’t sit with the disability sector or government alone.

It sits with all of us. That is, businesses and organisations—small, medium and large—across Australia.

A big focus of the Royal Commission will be on large employers. And there is little reason why larger employers couldn’t be doing more to lift the employment rates of people with disability.

As the Royal Commission has already heard, people with disability are only making up 1% of the workforce of the nation’s 10 largest employers.

Some important work is happening to look at the key factors behind and solutions for the underemployment of people with disability in larger organisations. Our partners at the Australian Human Rights Commission took an active step forward by launching the IncludeAbility initiative, which includes an employer network and web portal with resources for employers and people seeking employment. The initiative, led in particular by the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Ben Gauntlett, has been gaining a lot of traction and has the active commitment of many of Australia’s corporate and large organisations.

But what about small business? Here’s a toolkit we helped to create a little while back to help bring the benefits of employing people with disability in small business to life.

Small business makes up 98% of Australian businesses and employs 44% of the Australian workforce.
(Source: Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Report: 'Small Business Counts', 2019)

Small business is also embedded strongly within, and is often more representative, of our communities. SMEs have a very big role to play.

We hope the Royal Commission will go a long way to identifying more ways to address systemic barriers to employment and bring this into sharp focus.

We also need to show what can be done, simply.

We’ve heard through a lot of the consultations that employers and others in the community underestimate people with a disability. People have reported that they’ve been excluded from opportunities because of the way employers see disability, even if they have the right skills and knowledge for the role. Research indicates that this is a global issue.

Even after someone with disability has been hired, unfair bias can still be a problem. Employers might still make assumptions about whether workers are willing and able to take on extra opportunities. Or people are left out in other ways.

These attitudes in society and workplaces are contributing to the underemployment of people with disability and to why many people don’t remain in the workforce.

Here’s 8 practical things we’ve put in place, or that we've helped with or seen suggested to improve the rates of employment for people with disability.

  1. Encouraging more representation of people with disability, and of different types of disability, in the media. We loved our friend Graeme Innes’s contributions to the Royal Commission hearings this week where he’s said more needs to be done to change attitudes in society and of people making recruitment decisions. This focus would be a great start.
  2. Making inclusion a central part of your organisation’s internal policies. You don’t have to be a large organisation to have an inclusion officer or pay a consultant lots of money to set up your inclusion policy. Our team member, Alix, leads our small business inclusion strategy and is in the process of developing training modules and advice for staff, drawing on a wide range of readily available resources.
  3. Giving middle management, executives, HR personnel, recruiters and small business employers more information about the benefits of actively looking to employ people with disability. The IncludeAbility fact sheet on ‘The economic and business benefits of employing people with disability’ is one example of this.
  4. Sharing ‘tips and practical’ advice around employing people with disability, and support to develop ‘disability confidence’. Job Access has a lot of resources already, including the employer toolkit.
  5. Making workplace accommodations that are usually easy to put in place, and can be helpful to the whole team. Allowing for things like flexible hours and working online from home usually leads to a better quality of work and greater business agility. You can find out more in our recent video blog about some of the adjustments we use at The Social Deck.
  6. Reducing barriers to education and other learning opportunities for people with disability, including “on the job training” that’s available to other employees.
  7. Making your job hiring more inclusive. The job hiring process doesn’t always work well for people with disability. This might relate to the way information is shared about a job, the application requirements, or the format of interviews, which can all affect whether the job is truly open to everyone. Specialists in disability employment play an important role in supporting employers and businesses to employ people with disability. And these work for small businesses like us, as well as the big corporations. Xceptional is one company The Social Deck has worked with to fill roles in our team. Xceptional work with autistic people to create profiles that showcase their skills and ability, and work with employers to interview candidates in an inclusive way. They also provide the team with training before the new team member starts.
  8. And because it’s not always about just “having a job”, we strongly believe that people with disability should be supported to create and lead their own businesses. We work with a range of different consultants and business who are owned and run by people with disability. We get the same, in fact better, advice and support from those business, who bring the same professional expertise and service, and their own perspective about how things are likely to affect more people in the community.

So why is underemployment of people with disability an issue for society and business? Here’s 3 obvious reasons we can think of:

  1. It impacts people’s financial security, independence and overall wellbeing.
  2. It’s caused by and it leads to discrimination.
  3. We lose productivity when we don’t have the best people in jobs.

Stay up to date on the Royal Commission’s proceedings about measures taken to respond to the systemic barriers to open employment for people with disability.

How can we help?
Alix Harrigan
Impact and Inclusion Consultant
Kate Bowmaker
Managing Director & Director of Communications
kate@thesocialdeck.com0435 038 720