This week we celebrate International Day of People with Disability with a focus on “leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world”.
One of the key impacts of the pandemic in Australia is the huge labour shortage we are facing. Governments and industry groups are actively looking at ways to fill the gaps through skilled migrants and international students.
However, there is a fantastic untapped talent pool of job seekers looking for the opportunity to be employed but are missing out due to unintended barriers to employment.
According to the ABS, in 2018, 2.1 million people with disability living in households were of working age (15-64 years). Of these:
• over half (53.4%) were in the labour force, compared with 84.1% of those without disability
• almost half (47.8%) were employed, compared with 80.3% of people without disability.
For clarification, being "in the labour force" means you are either employed or unemployed (and actively looking for work), with the majority of those "not in the labour force" deemed permanently unable to work.
That said, there are approximately 1.12 million people (53.4% of 2.1 million) with disability in the labour force, and of those only 536,000 are employed, meaning that up to 584,000 people with disability are available to be employed in some context.
As a nation, if we are truly serious about inclusion and equity then this is the time to direct our business and government leaders’ attention towards people with a disability.
At Australian Network on Disability we are working with corporate Australia to grow disability confidence so that they can be welcoming and inclusive of people with a disability as employees and customers.
Whilst we provide tools and resources to do so we also provide opportunities for internships for university students and mentoring programs for jobseekers with a disability.
The learnings are that people with disability are talented, committed and loyal employees and that with the right adjustments they can be significant contributors not only to the company but to our economy. There is a myth that adjustments are expensive. The fact is that 60% of workplace adjustments have no cost.
It is also alarming that graduates with disabilities take 61% longer to find full-time employment than people without a disability, yet statistics tell us that there are productivity gains, reduced costs, improved staff retention in doing so.
There are many things we can learn from people with a disability and the first and most important lesson is that one must never assume anything about their ability. To quote highly respected former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Graeme Innes in his submission to the Disability Royal Commission recently, “people make assumptions about us, irrespective of whether we or others have put information before them which counteract those assumptions, and those assumptions are usually limiting and usually negative. And if you set the bar of expectations low, then most people, just like the glass ceiling for women, won't rise above that bar”.
In this labour market shortage we are facing, there is a very good business case for employing people with a disability, and it starts with us all being open to the entire talent pool. Not just the skilled migrants or international students, for this is how we can build an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world.