Businesses should reveal disability job numbers: Minister

by Iain Hopkins12 Sep 2012

As Australia applauds the efforts of the Paralympians, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, has called for renewed efforts from business to improve their diversity strategies.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the Minister said that people with disability face a far greater level of challenges to get a decent job, including bias – both unconscious and more blatant.

“Only 54 in every 100 [people with disability] are participating in the labour force compared to 83 in every 100 of the rest of the population. The good news is this is a problem we can fix,” Shorten wrote.

He added that a fundamental cause of unemployment is that people with disability still face real and systemic unconscious bias in the labour market.

"By this I mean human beings naturally react to things which are different by resorting to ignorant stereotypes," he wrote. “Not because we are bad people, but because I believe there are stereotypes which may trigger unintended discrimination by influencing how potential employers assess a person with a disability's capacity for work.”

In his capacity as Employment Minister, Shorten threw the debate open to the public about how to develop new strategies to get more people with a disability into the labour market.

“For example, I believe all Australian companies who employ more than 100 people should report how many of their employees have disability. This is simple, easy and involves little practical change. We need to ask when looking for new employees whether there is a person with a disability we could interview or hire?”

Eric Cooper, HR manager for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, told HC that rather than overtly discriminating against those who are disabled, recruiters seldom consider what is not needed for an employee to perform a role. He suggested a hypothetical role in which skills x, y and z are required, none of which require the candidate to be sighted. Cooper noted that employers would not typically consider actively looking for a visually impaired person to fill the role, but would typically default to a sighted applicant.

Suzanne Colbert, chief executive of the Australian Network on Disability Colbert, told HC that the case for employing people with a disability can be addressed by fostering a better understanding with “…people at executive levels, at recruitment and selection stage and then at line management level…”. In addition, people management skills need to be improved to “more fully embrace and understand diversity”.

Making your workplace more disability-friendly can take a variety of forms, including:


  • Actively advertising for employees with disabilities
  • Making training materials available in a variety of formats (eg braille, large print)
  • Providing internships or cadetships for employees with a disability
  • Organising mentoring programs for employees with a disability
  • Implementing disability awareness training in the workplace


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