‘A huge potential workforce are not being utilised’

Almost one in five Australians are living with some sort of disability

‘A huge potential workforce are not being utilised’

HRD interviews Judi Higgin, CEO of New Horizons, about the many benefits of hiring someone with a disability.

Why do you think people with disabilities are being overlooked for employment?

With almost half of discrimination complaints from people aged 15 to 64 years being against an employer it’s an important question to ask.

This could be due to organisations not understanding the benefits employing people with disability can bring to both your organisation and your other employees.

But the common themes that arise around employing people with disability are; employers make assumptions about whether a person has the capacity to do the required job, that the person won’t ‘fit in’, and that expenses will arise with having a person with disability in the workplace.

What are the benefits of hiring people with a disability?

The unemployment rate for people with disability is twice that of people without disabilities. With almost one in five Australians living with some sort of disability, that’s a huge potential workforce not being utilised.

At New Horizons we employ almost 100 people with intellectual disabilities in our packaging businesses across two locations and have seen benefits for all our employees.

Of course, providing meaningful employment for people with disability can benefit them greatly too. Among the potential benefits for organisations are:

  • Retention and loyalty: Many of our supported employees have worked with us for several years and the trend for increased tenure is supported by studies.  Our supported employees really value the work they do and often act as our biggest advocates.
  • Company culture: Including and welcoming people with disability into your workforce can boost your company culture, leading to happier employees. It also help fights some of the stigmas associated with intellectual disabilities and fosters greater understanding. I know that our employees really relish the diversity in our workforce.
  • Assistance: For organisations who would like to employ more people with disability but worry about the associated cost I would encourage them to look into the support that’s available to them. There are many ways the government can assist, for example the Workplace Modification Scheme, an Australian Government fund to help cover the cost of accommodating workers with disability.
  • Creating inclusive workplaces and communities: By providing meaningful employment to someone with a disability, you will be supporting them to improve their wellbeing. This could mean improving their social skills, learning a new skill, or simply looking forward to something every day. That is something that really can’t be bought and is even more important given that rates of social participation for people with disability declined with age.

The companies we provide services to also value the fact that we provide them with excellent service whilst providing meaningful employment to people with disability.

What are some innovative things companies are currently doing to accommodate people with a disability?

Having to make adjustments in the workplace can be a reason why an employer may not want to hire a person with a disability, however many employees with disability will not need any workplace adjustments at all.

For those who do, some may need minor adjustments to performance requirements or to work hours, and some may require specific equipment for the workplace. For these requirements, employers can apply for funding support through the Workplace Modifications Scheme, an Australian Government fund to help cover the cost of accommodating workers with disability.

Many of our employees do require specialist support, so that is something to consider, but often support is provided or funded under their NDIS package or other government funding programs, so don’t be put off.

What is your advice to HR professionals to accommodate people with a disability?

That it is definitely worthwhile! With just over one-quarter of people with disability working full-time, there is clearly much to be done.
Of course, everyone needs to be treated as an individual, as there is no ‘one solution’ to accommodate people with disability.

It’s important to have the employee involved in decision-making from the start. This helps you understand what they need so that they can work at their best and get the most out of their employment from the start.


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