Lack of opportunities for disabled ‘a national shame’

by 09 Dec 2011

Employers and recruiters unwittingly impose a ‘glass ceiling’ on disabled Australians, largely due to a lack of infrastructure and understanding – and new figures reveal that disabled people are half as likely to be employed compared to the general population.

John Walsh, a PwC partner and author of a new report, Disability Expectations: Investing in a better life, a stronger Australia, said that as a disabled person himself, he has been lucky to have very supportive employers, but that support isn’t always there for others.

Walsh said employers commonly have questions over “’How do we employ someone like this’, ‘how are the other work mates going to deal with it’, ‘what happens if they get an injury - are they covered by workers compensation?’,” and he commented “all of these questions imply a need for employers to be supportive in how they even get to square one.”

The PwC report highlighted some alarming statistics, namely, that Australia came in 21st out of 27 OECD countries, and 45% of disabled Australians live in poverty – double the OECD average.

Speaking to ABC, John Della Bosca from the National Disability Services Lobby dubbed the employment rate a ‘national shame’, and Lynette May from Disability Employment Australia said in many cases the biggest issues is ‘attitude’.

“Employers, whilst they’re open to it, feel nervous, uncertain – if you like, unqualified,” May said.

However, from next July the Federal Government will be increasing subsidies to employers of disabled workers, and benefits of employing disabled workers extends beyond a community responsibility.

According to the Australian Employers' Network on Disability's Opportunity booklet, “attracting, recruiting and retaining people with disability can provide a significant and often overlooked opportunity for business, and a solution to Australia's skills crisis.”

There is also mounting evidence which suggests that businesses able to handle diversity and disability are better positioned to succeed in a globalising economy as they are equipped to interact with a more complex customer base, environments and cultural diversity.

James Partridge, Chair of UK-based Disability Employer Engagement Steering Group said, “We, as employers, should not judge a person’s suitability for a role based on their disability. We should instead look at each individual’s ability and focus on what they can bring to our organisations if we provide the support, which in most cases is just about being flexible.”

In addition, Sue LaVerne, managing director of Business Services at E.ON Energy,said “We see no reason why our disabled employees should not have the same opportunities and career progression as their non-disabled colleagues.”

- Stephanie Zillman


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  • by Bob Buckley 9/12/2011 2:49:11 PM

    Actually, the PwC report said 21st of 29 for disability employment, but far worst (27th out of 27) for poverty of Australians with a disability. Already, Australia is by far the worst OECD country for poverty of people with a disability, which includes many of its most vulnerable citizens. The Business Council of Australia (BCA), representing the top 100 Australian companies, questions whether funding for disability support should keep pace with the growing number of people with a disability (see and without any plan for increasing employment for people whose support would reduce.
    How many Australian companies have an HR plan to includes an appropriate percentage of employees with a disability?
    The situation is even worse for some subgroups of people with a disability. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports outcomes for the rapidly growing number of people diagnosed with autism (see "the labour force participation rate for people with autism was 34%. This compares with 54% labour force participation rate for people with disabilities and 83% for people without disabilities."
    Around half the people with autism have Asperger's Disorder ... few of them have physical or intellectual incapacity yet they cannot get jobs, and not through lack of trying.
    Shame on Government and business.

  • by Karen Trutwein 9/12/2011 5:48:05 PM

    Australia needs to lift its game when it comes to employing people with disabilities. The situation is a disgrace. We need to look to places like the UK, where it is becoming more usual to provide training for employers so they will be willing and able to emply people with disabilities. It's a matter of human rights, surely. Not to mention rampant discrimination. As the parent of a child with autism I have a very personal interest in seeing this situation things improve.

  • by Karen Trutwein 9/12/2011 8:24:46 PM

    i wholeheartedly agree with Bob Buckley's comments. As a pparent of a child on the autism spectrum, I want to see employers recognising the capacity of people with autism and other disabilities to contribute to the workplace. it is a matter of human rights and of ending discrimination. Come on Australia, you can do so much better.

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