New study spotlights Australia’s workplace inclusion gap

A new annual industry report* conducted by global human services provider APM has today been released to uncover the biases and barriers many people with disability face in the Australian workforce.

The largest holistic research project in Australia of its kind, the APM Disability Diversity and Inclusivity (DDI) Index of Australian Workplaces 2023, has found that 58 per cent of Australian workers with disability often feel nervous or anxious about disclosing their disability with employers.

A further 39 per cent report poor performance at work due to hiding their disability and 30 per cent have experienced negative consequences post-disclosure or when requesting support in the workplace.

The DDI Index highlights that only 22 per cent of employers are aware that one-in-six Australians live with a form of disability. Despite many businesses wanting to actively hire people with disability (79 per cent), the research shows that many are unaware of how to go about this and the support available to them.

Amongst the top things that employers cite as a barrier to employing people with disability is the cost of training and support (27 per cent) and lack of easily accessible information (25 per cent).

Only 30 per cent of employers are aware of available wage subsidies and more than two-in-five (44 per cent) say this would help.

Although 82 per cent of businesses wanting to build a more inclusive workplace environment and 82 per cent saying they treat people with disability the same as those without disability, the research has revealed people with disability still face a high amount of prejudice, particularly those with non-visible disabilities.

Over half of employers (51 per cent) admitted to believing that some workers pretend to have non-visible disabilities to receive extra benefits, 65 per cent admit to wanting proof of diagnosis before providing support and 31 per cent don’t think non-visible disabilities are real disabilities, rather illnesses or health conditions.

Fiona Kalaf, General Manager of Projects at APM said: “The DDI Index aims to amplify the voices of people with disability, particularly when it comes to their experiences in the workplace. Since commencing our DDI Index, APM has seen a number of shifts and improvements, specifically when it comes to awareness of the benefits of hiring people with disability. However, there’s still so much more work to be done.”

Off the back of this research, APM has today launched the ‘#DearFutureBoss’ campaign, to give those with disability a voice when it comes to future-gazing towards a positive world where workplaces are diverse and inclusive.

The campaign is encouraging people with disability (and their family, friends, carers, peers and employers) to create and post an open letter describing the future workplaces they want to see, be employed by, or be at the helm of. They’re asked to share these on social media using the tag #DearFutureBoss.

30-year-old Steve Ralph from Hornsby, New South Wales, suffered a spinal injury accident in 2018. He joined the #DearFutureBoss campaign by penning a letter calling for better universal design in workplaces. “I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to collaboratively work to design and advise on the space and physical requirements that I need to participate equally.

“Universal design throughout workplaces needs to be embraced, as it’s essential to enable everyone to participate in the workplace regardless of ability.”

Recording-breaking 17 Paralympic medal winner and OAM, Ellie Cole is at the forefront of the campaign as APM’s official ambassador. Ellie has penned her own #DearFutureBoss letter highlighting the importance of Australian workplaces needing to show greater commitment to diversity and accessibility and why workplaces should be a space to provide opportunities and education for others to thrive regardless of their differences.

Ellie Cole, APM Ambassador said: “The #DearFutureBoss campaign is a really great opportunity for people to put their voices down on paper and be really vulnerable and honest about the workplaces they want to see in the not-so-distant future.

“It’s no secret that some hard truths will be publicly revealed via this campaign, specifically around how people with disabilities have been historically treated. As an athlete, I’ve been celebrated for my differences. To hear that so many Aussies are feeling ashamed for who they are or discriminated against - for something they can’t change - really breaks my heart.

“Personally, I’d love to see more people with disability climb the corporate ladder and become leaders. Ultimately, this will help to create some crucial change from the top down. Not only do we see such a huge gap in the employment space for people with disabilities, but if you look into the leadership positions you’ll see that the opportunities just aren’t there.”

To assist businesses to build more inclusive workplaces, APM has created a Disability and Inclusion Guide designed to help business leaders to better understand disability diversity and inclusion and the many benefits it has for individuals, businesses and the broader community.

For more information about APM or the #DearFutureBoss campaign visit or follow APM on socials @apm.australia.