Accessibility and inclusion for employees living with a disability
Assumptions, stereotypes and myths are shutting people with disabilities out of the workplace, an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry found last year.

These attitudes, it reported, lead to discrimination in decisions about recruitment, training, promotion and retirement – decisions not only bad for the individual but which also have consequences for the workplace and the national economy.

One in four New Zealanders – more than one million people – have a disability and, as our population ages, the rate of disability is increasing.

Yet if you have a disability you are 24 per cent less likely to have a job than someone who doesn’t, and 20 per cent more likely to earn under $30,000 a year, according to a 2013 disability survey by Statistics New Zealand.

Have The Conversation

Lisa Annese, CEO of the Diversity Council Australia, says the disability spectrum is very broad and not always visible. Chronic health conditions such as arthritis, asthma and cancer are among the most common types of disability. She says managers need to be taught the skills to ask staff what they need. Often the changes implemented can benefit many, not just those with a disability.

There are very few issues, she says, that can’t be overcome when two reasonable people talk openly. “Employers lose good people by not making adjustments,” says Annese. “Some organisations are frightened and think they’re opening a can of worms, but often it’s just about making adjustments they may one day use themselves.”

Help Is Out There

Worries about cost and time can be one of the factors that lead businesses to let go, or not hire, someone with a disability. But you may find something as simple as a change to lighting, modified or flexible working hours or a different chair is all that’s needed. If more significant adaptions are required – perhaps to computer software or physical structures  - support is available.

Not-for-profit organisations, such as Diversity Works NZ and Workbridge, can provide advice and resources to help businesses create a more inclusive workplace. Workbridge also administers the Support Funds and Modification Grant schemes on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development to help meet the cost of workplace alterations or extra expenses having a disability costs a person to be in the workplace. In addition, the Ministry of Social Development’s Mainstream Employment Program provides salary subsidies, training and other support to help people with significant disabilities obtain work.

Greg Brown is an employment engagement consultant at Vision Australia who says talking to organisations that represent people with disabilities can help you make the changes you need to become more inclusive. “We have engineers, lawyers, town planners, Masters in accounting, HR specialists and very highly educated people who want to work but it can be very difficult for them to get work,” says Brown.

“We know when we put people forward for a job that they are very close to the skill set required and that they can do the job as well as, if not better, than an able-bodied person. “It frustrates us that there are such great skill sets sitting there but pushed aside because they have got a guide dog.”

Diversity Brings Benefits

Workbridge says there is plenty of statistical evidence that employing someone with a disability can boost a business’s profits.

Because of the difficulties they may have faced getting a job, those employees often express their appreciation by being driven, passionate and loyal. They can also be innovative thinkers as a result of having to adapt to the everyday world.

Workers with disabilities have:

  • higher retention rates

  • lower absenteeism

  • high productivity

  • are no more likely to have a workplace injury than someone able-bodied.

Being seen as an inclusive and fair employer can also:

  • be good for your brand

  • make it easier to attract the best talent.

Change Your Mindset

All of us will at some point know someone with a disability or chronic illness. It could even be us. Brown says no one is infallible and warns corporates are on a ‘dangerous path’ if they shut themselves off from being an inclusive, flexible workplace.

Annese says sometimes all it takes is an adjustment of thought. “All of us have things we are good at and things we are not good at, and that includes people with disabilities and people without them,” she says. “Most people, even high performers, have periods of lulls, but measures such as more flexible working arrangements can help them come out of that lull with more energy and motivation.

“If you give up on those individuals you lose their skills. Recruiting new employees is very expensive and comes with no guarantees.”

 Our Own Experience At SEEK

There are 350,000 people in Australia defined as being blind or low-vision and that number is expected to grow to 550,000 within the next 15 years. Of those who can work, 60 per cent are unable to find someone to employ them.

Toni Williams is the Diversity Manager at SEEK. She set up a pilot program with Vision Australia to welcome more people with blindness or low vision into the company. “SEEK is about employment and our purpose is providing people with a fulfilling and productive working life,” says Williams. “We wanted to better represent the community we operate in.”

The pilot program has been so successful several participants are now on SEEK’s payroll and some have helped SEEK turn its experience into two educational videos, including the #openyoureyes campaign (above). “With better technology and more support than ever before we, as a society, need to get more comfortable about including candidates from different talent pools and harnessing all their skills that at the moment are being wasted,” says Williams.

Information provided in this article is general only, does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. SEEK provides no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability or completeness. Before taking any course of action related to this article you should make your own inquiries and seek independent advice (including the appropriate legal advice) on whether it is suitable for your circumstances.