International Day of People with Disability on Tuesday December 3 is a timely reminder that in our communities disability is more common than we might think.
It is also a reminder that disability affects every one of us in some way or another – either as family members, carers, schoolmates, sports teammates or colleagues.
More meaningfully, the Day shines a light on an important cohort of people who have tremendous value to offer the community, employers and the economy.
Around one in five Western Australians live with disability.
Seven million Australians are either living with disability or caring for someone with disability. That’s almost 30% of our population.
Australia-wide, 4.4 million people are living with disability, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data. Another 2.65 million people are carers of someone living with a disability – around 11% of all Australians.
Perceptions of disability abound – perhaps the most common being that someone with a disability has a wheelchair. In fact, only 4.4% of Australians with a disability use a wheelchair.
For many people, their disability is invisible, with almost one-quarter – 23% – having a mental health or behavioural disorder as their main condition.
Some of these perceptions have created gaps in community and workplace participation for people living with disability. For instance, 50% of Australians living with a disability are unemployed – materially higher than the country’s overall unemployment rate of 5.32%.
Only one-third (33.4%) of those aged 15 years and over had completed Year 12 or equivalent, compared to 88% of the general population. One in six people with disability (16.1%) have a university degree, compared to 27.3% of the Australian population.
As a community, we have a responsibility to work harder to close these gaps in education, workforce participation and social engagement.
Australia’s world class government-funded Disability Employment Services program assists job seekers with injury, illness or disability into meaningful jobs. At APM, in the last year alone, we have worked with more than 50,000 job seekers on the program to match their unique abilities with employers’ needs, facilitating sustainable employment.
In my role, I see more and more employers focusing on inclusivity in their workplaces, and they are reaping the rewards from access to a broader talent pool, greater diversification in their teams, improved engagement and lower turnover.
Although employment is one aspect of social inclusivity for people with disability, it is vitally important because workforce participation is so much more than a regular paycheque. Employment delivers numerous benefits, from improved self-confidence and a greater sense of autonomy to regular social interaction and community connectivity.
It is also critical to close the skills and training gap for people living with disability. Skills development and vocational training, making a workplace more accessible, and on-the-job support are some of the key elements of the Disability Employment Services program.
Australia is also leading the way globally with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) which will support a better life for hundreds of thousands of Australians with a significant and permanent disability and their families and carers.
Whilst the NDIS is still developing, it is the most transformational program globally in the Disability Sector and APM is proud to be a partner in the community as a Local Area Co-ordinator in Western Australia supporting the agency to implement the program.
Just as workplaces are making a positive shift towards greater diversity and inclusivity, we can all make a difference by considering what we can and must do more to better support people living with disability.
We can speak up more if we see inequality. We can think more inclusively. And we seek to involve people with disability in every aspect of our lives.
International Day of People with Disability falls but once each year. Yet, for the 411,500 Western Australians living with disability and their carers, every day is a moment to recognise the challenges and to celebrate the achievements of people living their life with disability.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016, 4430.0 – Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2018: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4430.0