Become a disability confident employer

by 20 Feb 2012

Around four million people in Australia have a disability – that’s 20% of the total population; however, people with disability are still significantly underrepresented in the workforce. Australian employers have indicated that they are open to recruiting more people with disability; however, they also have reservations about the financial risk and on-going productivity of hiring people with disability, as well as a fear about how existing employees will react. What’s getting in the way is their lack of confidence.

Fortunately, many organisations are equipping themselves with the attitude, skills and knowledge to build more inclusive workplaces and are tapping into a pool of skilled and talented people who are assets to their business.

Employing people with disability can bring a wide range of benefits to your business, as well as to the economy. Including people with disability can help to improve staff morale, encourage teamwork and raise awareness of disability in general. Successfully recruiting people with disability can also assist some organisations to achieve their diversity goals.

Another significant benefit of employing people with disability is that creating a workforce that reflects the diversity of your customers and shareholders can increase customer loyalty and boost your bottom line. This then benefits your organisation by improving your corporate reputation and your business performance at the same time. Becoming a ‘disability confident’ employer will also mean that you are better prepared if and when any existing employees acquire a disability.

While some people with disability are not in the labour market for reasons related to their disability, many more have faced too many barriers to finding decent employment, and have simply stopped trying. Identifying and removing some of these barriers will give your organisation access to a largely overlooked and untapped pool of talented candidates. 

Advertising the job

Your organisation’s website is often the ‘face’ of the company, and making sure it is accessible to people with a range of disabilities is essential if you want to attract the largest pool of candidates. Ways to attract more candidates with disability include having an ‘encouragement’ statement on your website, and including the inherent requirements in job advertisements. The inherent requirements will help candidates to ‘self-select’ roles that they know they can do. It is also a good idea to include a statement about your organisation’s reasonable adjustment policy and procedures on your website if possible.

More often than not you won’t even know when a candidate or employee has a disability – the majority of disabilities are non-visible – so having procedures in place that are barrier-free to everyone will ensure you don’t eliminate on any potential qualified candidates.

The interview

If a candidate discloses their disability prior to interview ask them what adjustments they may need for the interview. For example, a person with vision impairment may need detailed instructions and extra time to find the building.

During the interview, ask the same questions that you would of a person without disability. Ensure the questions are around the inherent requirements or job essentials.

Commencing employment

Most people with disability won’t need any adjustments to be made to the workplace, and any adjustments that are needed will generally be of little or no cost. 

Government funding is available for any reasonable adjustments required by an employee with disability, through the Workplace Modifications Scheme administered by JobAccess (http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/).

Some common reasonable adjustments that people with disability may require include specialised software (such as text to speech software for people with vision impairment), hearing loops (for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing), adjustable desks (to ensure a wheelchair can fit underneath), GPS devices to assist with navigation, or adaptive computer equipment such as ergonomic keyboards or headsets.

Other, less tangible adjustments include introducing flexible work practices. For example, having an employee with disability start and finish later so that they don’t have to travel during peak time, or allowing employees to work from home all or part of the time. Longer or more frequent break times may also be a reasonable adjustment depending on the circumstances. Introducing flexible work practices will benefit a wide range of other employees as well, particularly those with family or carer duties, and mature aged workers.

Consulting with the employee with disability and the rest of your team will ensure a smooth and pain-free transition period if any adjustments are required.

Being a disability confident employer is simply about being prepared, and developing the behaviours, attitudes, skills and knowledge to effectively recruit people with disability. Knowing what you can and can’t ask, what to do when a candidate requests an adjustment, and where to go for more assistance can make the whole experience much more positive for everyone involved. What’s more if you become an employer of choice for people with disability you will get more people applying for your jobs, increasing the chance of finding the right person.

The Australian Network on Disability has a range of products and services that can assist your organisation to become more disability confident, including in-house training programs, publications, consultancy services and workforce development programs. AND can also assist with interview techniques, reviewing recruitment procedures, and can provide advice in relation to website accessibility.

The Australian Network on Disability will hold their National Conference on 16 May 2012. The conference will focus on innovative organisations making a difference to the inclusion of people with disability (both in Australia and globally) and provide practical advice for anyone looking to develop a more inclusive organisation.

Visit the website at www.and.org.au or call 1300 363 645 for more information.

About the author

Suzanne Colbert is the CEO of The Australian Network on Disability

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