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Research reveals employer attitudes to disability

1 March 2023 at 2:43 pm
Danielle Kutchel
The head of the Australian Network on Disability says it’s time for businesses and not for profits to consider how accessible and inclusive their organisations are.

Danielle Kutchel | 1 March 2023 at 2:43 pm


Research reveals employer attitudes to disability
1 March 2023 at 2:43 pm

The head of the Australian Network on Disability says it’s time for businesses and not for profits to consider how accessible and inclusive their organisations are.

New research from the Australian Network on Disability (AND) has uncovered some of the barriers people with disability face in employment.

The research comes at a critical time for disability employment, ahead of the release later this year of the report out of the Disability Royal Commission, which will address the issue.

The survey of AND’s 400 member organisations, including some of the country’s biggest corporations, major universities, and government departments, found 68 per cent do not have targets for the employment of people with disability. 

335 companies responded to the survey, which found just 35 per cent use the JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund, which was set up to help cover the cost of any workplace modifications needed for employees who have a disability.

Corene Strauss, CEO of AND, said the survey had been launched because “there’s not enough data globally and locally” about the views of organisations on hiring people with disability.

“As part of a strategic decision we have made, we made the decision to start doing more research around disability employment and what’s happening in the employment space. It was time to start getting better data,” she told Pro Bono News.

As Australia’s peak body for disability employment, and with a rapidly growing member base, Strauss said AND is well positioned to gather such data.

She also pointed to the high unemployment rate for people with disability, which has hovered around ten per cent for many years.

“We need to get the numbers to understand what it is we can do to shift the dial. Is it the processes? Is it that people with disability fear judgement? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that, but I’d like to know,” she said.

See more: Just ask the question: Barriers to disability employment

What the survey found

The survey focused on workplace adjustments, employment targets, the challenges of employing people with disability and retention and promotion of people with disability.

Sixty per cent of respondents in the public sector do have targets for employing people with disability, compared to 14 per cent in the private and not for profit sectors.

The survey identified the top three challenges in seeking to identify employees with disability as a lack of internal capacity or know-how, concerns about invading the privacy of employee, or being unsure of how to ask about disability status in the appropriate way.

Respondents reported the top three barriers to attracting skilled candidates with disability as mainstream processes that may have unintended barriers, a lack of resources to make attracting disabled candidates a dedicated focus, and mainstream recruitment practices making it hard to target any minority group.

Respondents who have not accessed JobAccess said this was due to a lack of awareness that the program existed, limited structures or processes in place in the organisation that explain how to access JobAccess, not having a need to use JobAccess or funding workplace adjustments themselves.

The survey also found that of the 35 per cent of organisations who have accessed the Employment Assistance Fund through JobAccess, they were more likely to use JobAccess for advice, training, reimbursement for the cost of adjustments, and free workplace assessments.

See more: A little less conversation, a little more action needed on disability employment

Strauss is confident the survey’s findings can be more widely extrapolated to the Australian employment market.

AND’s membership base represents 17 per cent of the total labour force in Australia, or around 2.2 million employees in “a really good slice of businesses from government to private enterprise to not for profits”.

What they all have in common, she said, is that they all want to get better at employing, including and catering to people with disability — but they “just don’t know how to do it”.

Strauss said this survey is “early days”, with further research to come, much of it addressing the fears that employers have.

Some fear the cost involved in workplace adjustments, she said.

This fear is “nebulous”, according to Strauss, thanks to the government assistance available to cover costs.

“If there is a cost… through JobAccess and the Employer Assistance Fund you can actually get funding for the adjustment. So if it’s a screen reader or if it’s an Auslan interpreter, if it is physical changes to some part of your premises or equipment, JobAccess exists so that you are encouraged to employ people with disability.”

AND is also planning further research into why people are not using JobAccess, especially in light of ongoing flexible and hybrid work in the wake of pandemic lockdowns.

Targets could be incoming

With the Disability Royal Commission report due out later this year, and ongoing heightened discussions around employing people with disability, Strauss said employers are about to be put on notice.

“There is going to be so much that is going to come from that report — there is no doubt the government will have to take on a lot of the recommendations. And that means that employers will need to change the way they’re doing their disability employment currently,” she said.

“If they’re not doing anything, they’re going to have to start stepping up. And those that are doing it, they’ll be wanting to find ways to do it better. So the climate is right now, but there’s also the carrot and the stick. The stick is going to be coming soon. We need to be ready to start shifting the dial on this.”

AND has partnered with the Australian Institute of Company Directors on a program designed to help leaders with disability develop their governance skills. The program also facilitates conversations with directors on how to create inclusive boards.

Strauss said programs like this are key to improving career development opportunities for people with disability.

“There is an absolute paucity of representation of people with disability at C-suite and at board level,” she said.

“We found that that scholarship program has really put the spotlight on career progression for people with disability. And also it has put the spotlight on boards to make them think about… representation on their boards. [Around] one in four, one in five people in the community have some form of a disability. And when we’re making decisions at the board [level], have we got that representation? No.”

Accessible processes from start to finish

Strauss said employers need to consider how accessible their organisation is for the entirety of the employment journey.

Simple ways to make recruitment processes more accessible include putting contact people on job advertisements, in case applicants have questions about the process or even any adjustments they need, or avoiding PDF files as some can’t be read by screen readers.

Employers should also consider the accessibility of their building or the meeting place for interviews, and whether those with mobility issues are able to enter it.

During onboarding, documents should be easily readable by any person, and flexible arrangements should be documented.

Strauss said AND referred to this as “dignified access”, where disabilities are always accounted for. This could look like scheduling regular breaks in long meetings to enable people with diabetes or a colostomy bag time to address their needs, or maintaining suitable lighting for those with vision or sensory challenges.

Currently, 47 per cent of AND’s employees have a disability, compared to around three to four per cent more widely in Australia.

Strauss challenged not for profits to consider the talent pools they are tapping into when hiring, and said she is happy to provide guidance or advice to the sector.

“They do need to start thinking about employment of people with disability because the Royal Commission report is coming out in September and there is no doubt that it will put a spotlight on employers around their employment practices for people with disability, and I suspect targets will become the thing,” she said.

“If they haven’t started the process, they need to start thinking about it now.

“Have a look at your organisation and ask yourself, what do you think your percentage is? If it’s less than 5 per cent, what are you going to do to shift the dial?” she said.

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

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