Interview: Daniel Valiente-Riedl
You’ve been working in the Disability Sector for over 12 years, how have you seen the conversation around disability support change in that time?
The conversation around disability support has seen a significant shift over the years, which is reflective of where the industry stands today. Initially, disability support was ‘grant-focused’, and disability support providers emphasised approving and providing funds for their clients. Plus, not-for-profit and family-owned charity organisations primarily serviced the sector.
Today, disability support providers work alongside clients and job seekers to source the right opportunities, enabling them to enter and stay in the workforce. The focus is on improving livelihood and overall quality of life for people with disability. Moreover, the entry of for-profit organisations has enhanced industry competitiveness and service delivery standards. It has resulted in the adoption of a high-quality, outcome-focused approach by service providers to better support people with disability.
JobAccess is a hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers which was created by the Australian Government. How do people with disability enhance the culture of the Australian workforce?
People with disability bring a range of skills and experience to the workplace. Studies 1 show that people with disability have a positive attitude and work ethos. Their optimism and resilience have a significant flow-on effect on other employees, improving morale and productivity in the workplace. Hiring people with disability also builds an inclusive and diverse workplace culture, enhancing the company’s image among its staff, customers and the community.
Can you expel some common myths workplaces may have in regards to reservations in hiring people with disability?
Various studies 2 highlight the clear benefits of hiring people with disability. Employees with disability are:
- Productive – 90 per cent of employees with disability are as or more productive than other employees.
- Safe – 98 per cent of employees with disability have average or superior safety records than other workers.
- Reliable – 86 per cent of employees with disability have average or higher attendance records than other workers.
- Affordable – Higher retention rates of people with disability leads to lower recruitment costs. There is also a range of subsidies and incentives available to hire and retain employees with disability.
- Innovative – Employees with disabilities are also remarkably creative – 75 per cent report having an idea that would drive value for their company versus 66 per cent of employees without disabilities.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing people with disability in gaining employment?
The biggest challenge is the misconception employers have about the skills and talents of people with disability. A common assumption is that people with disability can only do basic unskilled jobs. The opposite is the case – people with disability bring a range of skills, talents and abilities to the workplace. They work in all sorts of jobs and hold a range of tertiary and trade qualifications. In fact:
- 1 million people with disability are employed across diverse industries and occupations in Australia
- 12 per cent of people with disability who work run their own business
- 32 per cent of employees with disability work as professionals or managers
There are other barriers too, such as employers having the right motivation but lack of confidence – for instance, not being sure if their workplace is suitable to make a person with disability comfortable, or being unaware of the supports that are available to them.
Are there actions workplaces could take to improve access for workers with disability and are there examples of proactive workplaces putting these things into practice?
There are several ways employers can overcome barriers to employing people with disability. Effective communication is one of the more critical steps. In most cases, it can be as simple as using inclusive language, or asking an individual if there is any support or adjustments the employer can provide in the workplace.
Not all people with disability require adjustments. Adjustments can be as simple as a telephone headset or an ergonomic chair. If an employee does need modifications to perform their role, their employer can contact JobAccess to ask about a free workplace assessment to receive advice on changes or support that can be reimbursed by the Australian Government’s Employment Assistance Fund (EAF).
Additionally, larger organisations seeking to improve their confidence and capability in hiring people with disability can reach out to the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) – the JobAccess Employer Engagement team. NDRC provides practical help including reviewing policies and procedures and conducting disability awareness training for staff.
What do you think the future job market for people with disability will look like?
The future job market for people with disability is encouraging. As the disability sector continues to evolve through healthy competition and improved service focus, jobseekers will receive better support from service providers to seek and gain new work opportunities. On the other hand, 77 per cent of Australian employers believe it’s important for their workplace to reflect the diversity by including people with disability 3. More employers are opening their doors to jobseekers with disability by utilising the support and tools available to improve their disability confidence and competence.
1 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2011, Employer perspectives on recruiting people with disability and the role of Disability Employment Services, http://trans2work.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Employer-persepctives-on-recruiting-people-with-disability-and-the-role-of-Disability-Employment-Services-791KB-PDF.pdf
2 Australian Safety and Compensation Council, 2007, Are People with Disability at Risk at Work? A Review of the Evidence, ASSC, Canberra, Du Paul University 2007; Graffam, J., Shinkfield, A., Smith, K., & Polzin, U. 2002, Employer benefits and costs of employing people with disability, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation (17) 251
3 Building Employer Demand Research Report, Department of Social Services www.dss.gov.au/disability-and-carers/publications-articles/building-employer-demand-research-report