It’s Time Business Played its Part in Disability Employment
21 July 2014 at 11:57 am
Even with the current government incentives and employee support programs in place, the private sector remains hesitant to give people with disability a chance to live and thrive as a participating member of the community, writes Achieve Australia CEO Anne Bryce.
Achieve Australia is well aware of the challenge, but continues to be a strong advocate for people with disability and believes wholeheartedly in everyone’s right to work, to be constructive within the community, and to live a valued and meaningful life.
Every day, through our Disability Employment Services we see the incredible impact of having purpose and measurable outcomes, being seen as a valued members of the community, and being able to make ends meet on your own terms.
Achieve Australia has employment services that work with employers and potential candidates to find the right role and with the support balance needed to allow our clients lead productive and meaningful lives as valued employees.
However, according to the latest statistics Australian jobseekers outnumber available job vacancies by 5:1, coupled with the Federal Government’s focus to reduce the number of people on welfare, such as the DSP, our concern is about what this might mean for people with disability, and the family and friends who support them.
According to the ABS, in 2014 almost 20 per cent of our population have a disability and are supported by Carers making up a further 12 per cent of our population. Together they make up 32 per cent of our population that could be significantly affected by the Federal Government welfare cutbacks.
What is even more worrying is that many people with disability do not have the education and training necessary to successfully compete with unemployed people without disability. So, how do we ensure that people with disability are not damaged by the barriers created by employers?
Under the National Disability Agreement (NDA) people with disability have access to increased and improved services to assist them into work. This can be accessed through the Australian Disability Enterprises which employs approximately 20,000 people with disability, and the Disability Employment Services.
From 2005 and 2010, the number of people using Disability Employment Services, increased by 83 per cent. However although these figures show that almost 300,000 people with disability have been looking for work, other statistics prove that less than 5 per cent of them are actually finding placements.
Many people with disability engage in work and make a valuable contribution to society.
Nationally, almost 2.2 million Australians with disability are employed in some capacity. Of this more than 1.5million have a significant physical disability (such as loss of a limb, or paraplegia) and a further ½ million have a significant sensory disability (such as vision or hearing impaired). The remaining 200,000 people with disability who are employed are spread across psychological, intellectual and brain injury disabilities, the majority of whom are placed within the public sector and within disability enterprises.
However, the contribution to disability employment made by the private sector is significantly smaller. People with disability are frequently not considered potential members of the workforce. Perception, fear, myth and prejudice continue to limit understanding and acceptance of disability in workplaces throughout Australia. Myths abound, including that people with disability are unable to work and that accommodating a person with a disability in the workplace is expensive. Contrary to these notions, businesses that have an integrated workforce have found that people with disability are more than capable, and are more likely to build a lasting and valued relationship with their employer.
Employment can provide financial independence, a better standard of living and improved physical and mental health. Entering employment can also provide individuals with increased confidence, expanded social networks and social skills as well as opportunities to develop a career by gaining new work skills and knowledge.
However, for all the Federal Government’s good intentions, it still comes down to the willingness of the Australian private sector to create viable employment opportunities for people with disability. There is a process to employing a person with a disability that requires careful planning, guidance, preparation and support that many employers shy from when it comes to the crunch. If lucky enough to secure a job, and supported by organisation’s with the right training regimes and workplace orientations, once skilled, are often considered to be valued employees within the organisation.
This is a workforce that is potentially underutilised. Some people with disability are tertiary qualified, others can handle simple to moderate tasks, and many are supported by federal and state employment assistance packages.
People with disability are resilient and resourceful. When matched with a placement, employers who play their part find their new employees to be resourceful and capable, adding value to a workplace and the organisation.
Motor Accidents Authority is just one of many corporate employers working with Achieve Australia to provide valued and meaningful opportunities for people with disability in the workplace. Jane Probert, Case Management Services Manager said that “yes, the experience can take some time but Achieve Australia has done an outstanding job in supporting and assisting everyone involved… through the experience, our organisation’s depth and understanding has improved and all of our employees are valued members of the team.”
The Australian welfare system is under review, and is most likely, in some form, going to change. The success or failure of this move depends entirely on the willingness of the Australian employers to step up to the challenge and take a serious look at the disability employment services that are available and the associated government incentives.
About the Author: Anne Bryce is CEO of Achieve Australia and has more than 26 years experience in disability service provision, with nearly 20 years operational management level experience. These roles included the management of Accommodation, Employment, Community Living and Community Brokerage Services and has worked in both government and non-government agencies. She currently sits on the NDS national board.