Close Search
News  |  Careers

Workforce Must Proactively Welcome People With Disability

2 December 2016 at 2:30 pm
Wendy Williams
Australia needs to be more proactive in welcoming people with disability to the workplace, according to new research.

Wendy Williams | 2 December 2016 at 2:30 pm


Workforce Must Proactively Welcome People With Disability
2 December 2016 at 2:30 pm

Australia needs to be more proactive in welcoming people with disability to the workplace, according to new research.

The Disability Confidence Survey Report, which investigated the attitude and awareness of 500 small to medium-sized enterprises on welcoming customers and employees with disability, showed there had been a positive shift in attitude year on year but there was “still a long way to go”.

According to the report, which was released on Friday by the Australian Network on Disability,

Australian businesses have a passive approach to making changes.

AND chief executive Suzanne Colbert told Pro Bono Australia News it was clear that positive attitude did not lead to positive action.

“I think we’re positive in attitude but perhaps not proactive in attitude and therein lies the challenge,” Colbert said.

“Australian businesses can do much more to improve the experience of people with disability who are attempting to access jobs, products and services.

“With one in five Australians experiencing disability during their lifetime, it is vital that business take a more proactive approach to welcoming this important part of our community.”

The report follows the publication of the 2015 employment participation rates for people with disability and the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC)’s Willing to Work enquiry, which indicated there had been no improvement in employment participation for people with disability in the past 20 years.

This latest survey supports those findings, revealing that that while 82 per cent of participants believed they had some customers with disability, 42 per cent had not taken action because they had not received any request to do so, and a further 24 per cent didn’t know what action could be taken.

Colbert said it was time to start a bigger conversation with Australian businesses and this report,  the only study of its kind in Australia, was an important step towards that.

“Small to medium enterprises are the businesses that we all go to every single day and they form part of our community,” she said.

“We know from the National Disability Insurance Scheme that the highest number of participants in the scheme are seeking community participation, so in order for their goal of increased community participation to be met we do need a community that has both a positive attitude and is accessible and inclusive for that experience to be helpful and to be encouraging for people.

“So from a customer perspective it is about raising awareness and starting a conversation about the diversity of our customer base.

“And from an employer perspective, it is important to monitor those trends around what is the current view of SME in relation to employment of people with disability because they are very large employers as a sector and we’ve had some unfortunately quite damning reports this year indicating that we’ve made no progress in Australia on the employment participation of people with a disability in 20 years.

“The purpose of the report is to start a conversation with Australian businesses to think about what are the steps that they are taking now, what other things could they do to be welcoming and to ensure that they are thinking about the diversity of their customers and the diversity of their current and indeed potential employees.”

Encouragingly, the report did show 55 per cent of businesses said they were aware they had employees with disability, with almost 90 per cent identifying positive benefits.

Colbert said it was really pleasing to see a recognition that welcoming customers and employees with disability was good for business.

“What i’m really pleased to see is that they are really highlighting the business benefits such as filling a skills gap, productivity, customer loyalty, improved moral, all those things,” she said.

“We do want to ensure that employment of people with disability is as much as anything business as usual, just part of good practice and reflecting the customer base that you serve in your organisation, but it is also about encouraging other businesses to see the benefits and to take that proactive step as well.

“What we need to do now is spread that message and encourage others to be proactive about welcoming people with disability.”

Human Rights Commission Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin said Australian businesses could no longer ignore the economic, social and human rights imperatives of providing inclusive goods and services and facilitating inclusive employment.

“Greater awareness is a catalyst for greater effort to remove the barriers that prevent people with disability enjoying access to goods, services and employment opportunities on an equal basis with others,” McEwin said.

“In the past year, we have seen some positive examples of how the growing awareness among businesses of the value of people with disability as customers and employees is creating more positive and inclusive experiences for people with disability.

“The results of the 2016 Disability Confidence Survey highlight that more businesses than this time last year believe they have done something specific in the last 12 months to assist one or more customers with disability.

“Businesses that may have never thought about how to make their goods, services and employment practices more inclusive are starting to realise the importance of simple actions to the overall inclusiveness of their business, like providing information about goods or services in a different format, or reviewing the working hours policy to provide more flexible arrangements.

“Businesses are slowly starting to recognise the important role they play in a more inclusive society where a person’s disability does not define their access to goods and services or employment opportunities.”

But he said while positive attitudes and awareness were an important start, they must translate to action.

“It is important to note from the 2016 Disability Confidence Survey that many businesses have a positive attitude towards employing people with disability, but may not have considered it as an option or had any applicants with disability apply,” he said.

“More needs to be done to ensure businesses have the resources and know-how to make inclusion core business and benefit from the incredible wealth of experience, skills and talents employees with disability offer.”

According to the report, many organisations who had not knowingly employed someone with disability were open to doing so, but either lacked the applicants or had not purposefully set about doing it.

Small businesses found this more challenging and were less likely to see the relevance of job applicants with disability to their organisation, citing the lack of suitable candidates as the reason.

But Colbert said businesses need to reach out to the total candidate pool.

“I think it is a couple of things, they may have indeed had applicants but not have known because when you apply for a role, if your disability is not obvious or visible then you may choose not to share that information,” she said.

“The reason we ask that question is to once again think about how broadly they’re reaching out to the total candidate pool.

“Because we certainly encourage employers to think of the entire talent pool, not to be too narrow in their focus, so raising awareness that if you are not seeing the entire talent pool then there are other steps that you can take.

“What we need to see organisations do is just take that next step and arm themselves with the information they need in order to make progress so they can move from that positive attitude to a more proactive approach.”

Rania Saab, family law solicitor and AND board member, said it was in everyone’s interest for people with disability to be fully included.

“I will not be loyal or give my patronage to an organisation that discriminates against me by failing to provide me with the assistance (as a customer) or adjustments (as an employee) that I need,” Saab said.

“It is in our nation’s interest that people with disability are fully included and integrated in society and have equal access to all services across all industries.”

The launch of the report coincides with the International Day of People with Disability on 3 December.

Colbert said it was an opportunity to acknowledge the diversity of the community and the contribution that people with disability make.

“We strongly believe here at AND that people with disability are economic and social contributors and it is a day where we can acknowledge that,” she said.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

PB Careers
Get your biweekly dose of news, opinion and analysis to keep you up to date with what’s happening and why it matters for you, sent every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Got a story to share?

Got a news tip or article idea for Pro Bono News? Or perhaps you would like to write an article and join a growing community of sector leaders sharing their thoughts and analysis with Pro Bono News readers? Get in touch at or download our contributor guidelines.
Most Viewed


Webinar Value Packs

Your email address will not be published.


Battling trafficking one stitch at a time

Jonathan Alley

Friday, 27th May 2022 at 11:30 am

So tell us about yourself…

Jonathan Alley

Friday, 27th May 2022 at 10:00 am

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook