Employing People With Disability

Australian employers are missing out on a significant opportunity to broaden their workforce and future-proof their workplaces, with new research by JobAccess, the national hub for disability employment information, revealing that 70% of Australians have not heard of workplace adjustments, one of the most effective ways to enable people with disability to gain and retain employment.

One workplace adjustment that has recently received attention is working from home, however general awareness of workplace adjustments is very low, which is concerning considering the existing employment gap, where people with disability are twice as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the population.

Workplace adjustments are administrative, environmental or procedural changes made to enable people with disability to access employment opportunities and work efficiently and comfortably. They are a powerful asset when building truly inclusive and accessible workplaces.

While the awareness of workplace adjustments is low, the research reflects that the majority of Australians recognise that living with disability makes it harder to find a job, and 77% agree that young people with disability, including mental health conditions, deserve extra support in getting their first job. This suggests that the issue is a lack of knowledge and awareness.

Importantly, the survey found that awareness of workplace adjustments is not only low among the general population, but also among people with disability. When a person with disability requires adjustments, they might not even know that they could ask for them or that support to arrange them is available. That could mean they miss out on an opportunity and an employer misses out on a productive, skilled employee because of this lack of knowledge.

This is further compounded by the finding that one in five respondents believed that it would be hard to implement workplace adjustments, and two in five estimate the cost as significant. Additionally, the majority of Australians think that employers carry the cost of making workplace adjustments alone.

Dispelling Assumptions

The assumption often is that workplace adjustments are difficult and expensive to implement. There is support through JobAccess and the Australian Government’s Employment Assistance Fund (EAF). JobAccess research shows that half of modifications cost less than $1,000, and that many adjustments can be made at no cost at all, like providing flexible work hours or locations.

The EAF can provide funding to eligible people with disability for physical modifications to a workplace, assistive technologies, Auslan interpreting, awareness training, and specialist support services. JobAccess has managed over 57,000 applications for workplace modifications, support and training since 2006, with over 90% of employers saying that employees became more productive after the adjustments were implemented.3  These changes can also benefit other workers. In fact, while 17% of Australians in our research identified as living with disability, twice that number believe they have benefited from a workplace adjustment.

An Opportunity to Build Stronger Teams

Despite these positive effects, there is still work to be done. These survey results present us with an opportunity to educate employers and individuals, so workplace adjustments become business-as-usual. Less than half of managers know how to arrange workplace adjustments for their employees with disability, meaning that they are lacking a vital tool in their toolboxes.

This knowledge gap is an issue for everyone, not just people with disability, because employers are missing out on a huge talent pool when they don’t provide accessible, inclusive workplaces. It’s well documented that employees with disability have lower rates of absenteeism and staff turnover and fewer workplace injuries than other workers. Hiring a person with disability shouldn’t be seen as an issue to be overcome, but an opportunity to build stronger teams.

For employers looking to increase their disability confidence, there is support available, including JobAccess’ Employer Toolkit. The National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) is the Employer Engagement service of JobAccess which partners with larger employers across Australia to improve their disability confidence through free, tailored 12-month partnerships.