Improve the outlook for disabled workers

by Stephanie Zillman19 Mar 2013

According to new research, there are more Australians with a physical or intellectual disability involved in the workforce than ever before.

Recruitment firm Employment Office polled 300 employers around Australia and found 49.5% of Australian companies have hired a disabled worker in the past five years. Notably, the survey also revealed that 35% of these employers have modified the original job description and altered their usual work processes to accommodate the candidate’s disability.

While steps forward have been made, Employment Office managing director Tudor Marsden-Huggins said it remains crucial that businesses encourage employment participation for people with disability. Citing Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, Marsden-Huggins said not only do one in six working Australians have a disability, but one in six Australian adults also experience some form of mental illness every year.

“Businesses who can’t adapt or support employees with a disability could be missing out on extraordinary employees. The physical or intellectual disability of an employee may require some extra effort on the employer’s part to make the role or the work area more appropriate, but it has become exceedingly important for organisations create a flexible and supportive structure for a diverse and all-inclusive workforce,” he said.

To create a more disability-friendly workplace, employers should consider implementing flexible working arrangements including part-time roles. Providing specialised equipment to assist employees with a physical disability is also essential. It is estimated the number of Australians living with “core activity limitation” disabilities, which cover communication, mobility or self-care impairments, will increase from 1.3 million in 2012 to 4 million in 2099 – which could mean long-term losses for organisations who fail to equip themselves for disability in their workforce.  “The Queensland Government has taken a positive step forward, announcing in January that it will create more than 750 new job opportunities for people with disabilities by 2015. What we need now is for the corporate sector to follow,” Marsden-Huggins said.

Key HR takeaways

Diversity@Work is a leader in the management and development of diverse work practices, and advises that the following practices should be operational prior to actively seeking and employing people with disabilities:

Business Case: Ensure there is a business case as opposed to a moral case – this is an important step in ensuring that there is buy in from the rest of the business. This will not only assist in the decision making processes but will also obtain management commitment and buy in. A diversity business case should include a description of the business needs and drivers such as: need for broader access to labour markets, recruitment and retention of top talent, increasing workforce diversity.

Action Plan: Develop an Action Plan which will have two main aims: review current practices and identify any systemic or physical barriers for people with a disability develop policies, procedures aimed at eliminating barriers and creating an inclusive culture

Recruitment Practices: Ensure disability confident recruitment practices are in place. One sure-fire way to do this is to address unconscious bias in all recruitment practices, regardless of whether recruitment occurs either internally or externally.

Competence: Ensure the leadership team have the competence to lead and leverage talent within a diverse team of people by providing regular and structured professional development in diversity leadership.  Provide opportunities for all staff to attend general awareness programs around different aspects of disability.  This will offer employees the opportunity to ask questions and ensure commonly held myths and stereotypes are addressed.

Support: Develop ongoing partnerships and relationships with organisations that have disability expertise. Examples of this may include a Disability Employment Service as well as Diversity@Work. These organisations provide a safety net for both the employee in the transition to work process as well as the hiring manager. This support is crucial in the initial phases of the employment process.

Related Article: Lack of opportunities for disabled ‘a national shame’


  • by John Anderson 20/03/2013 10:43:34 AM

    I am the director of two businesses and in a combined sense we have been fortunate to return a person with disability back to the workplace.

    In our experience it has been a relatively seemless and hugely rewarding process.

    We maybe have been fortunate in that our workplace is relatively modern and so all the facilities are in place to enable people in a wheelchair ready access.

    Importantly the only thing that needed to be adapted was putting in a new desk that accomodated a wheelchair, and this was provided to us anyway.

    When it comes to planning we were fortunate in that much of knowledge and advice we needed was provided by Ivon's support group. We truly underestimated the level of support that Ivon gets from his Carers, and the level of involvement that his therapists have in the return to work program. So for us the planning and deployment was easy. The business case required little analysis, because we had real opportunity to identify with what Ivon's goals were and how they dovetailed into our business practices.

    So from someone that has returned a person to work, bring it on, it has been hugely rewarding and little if any inconvenience

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