Why disability inclusion is essential for workplace wellbeing

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found working-aged people with disability are twice as likely to be unemployed than those without disability.

In addition, they are also more likely to be unemployed for longer. For the employers, leaders and advocates who want to change this, it can take consistency and collaboration to make an impact.

Ahead of International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), Australian Paralympian and APM Ambassador Ellie Cole shares how businesses can make changes – big and small - to help people with disability find sustainable work.

Simply, inclusion in the workplace is good for business.

Actively considering, prioritising and including people living with injury illness or disability in your workplace gives more than just a financial boost.

Factoring in better support for diverse employees in your business strategy makes a workplace a more enjoyable –and most importantly, physically and psychologically safer – place to be.


Understanding their challenges

People living with disability face several environmental, institutional, and personal factors which can become barriers to achieving employment.

These can range from communication barriers, accessibility issues, or common misconceptions around disability.

"Once you bring in somebody that has a disability into your workplace, you're just going to learn,” Ellie Cole said.

“Whether that's going to be how language is used, how your website looks, how your marketing material looks, how big your text is. It's a big learning curve for some of us, but you'll find as soon as you start, you'll learn very, very quickly."

Taking a chance on someone is the first step towards changing attitudes.

When one person – like a hiring manager, supervisor, or leader – wants to find out more about a person based on their resume, skills or personality that step can change more than just your business.

APM Ambassador Ellie Cole

Simple solutions, better lives

Businesses could be in a better position than they think to make accommodations for employees with disability.

“When hiring someone with a disability, one of the misconceptions is that workplace modifications will be expensive, and this is simply not true,” Ellie Cole said.

“The most common arrangements for employees with a disability are casual, part-time, or flexible hours, and many people with a disability need little to no adjustments in the workplace at all.”

“If and when workplace modifications are required, there's often financial subsidies available,” she added.

And when it comes to making a change, the most important thing is simply making a start according to Ellie.

“Starting is actually the most important thing – I think including everyone is a lot easier than you think.”

Even for forward-thinking businesses, there will be cause for reflection along the way.

“It’s more than just how physically accessible your workplace is a lot of us have to look internally at what our values, attitudes and behaviours look like, how we approach and use language around people with disability.”

Margaret recently had her first experience as a manager hiring a person with disability, when she added Tayla to their team this year.

“I think in this day and age where you need to give people the opportunity, sometimes it will work out and sometimes it doesn’t.”

“It’s more about looking at them as a person, as a whole.”

Her experience with APM and hiring Tayla has been positive, and transformative for their team.

The Respect aged care centre has found a hard-working young professional who is working towards her financial goals, and they want to see Tayla succeed.

Looking beyond a person’s disability and seeing their strengths and skills can open a vast pool of untapped talent for employers, according to Margaret.

“They are a person, they’ve got feelings. They’ve got joys, delights, you know, the whole plethora of their personality and character is there – and the opportunity is an untapped resource,” she said.

Tayla at work in the laundry

Open hiring creating more open minds

Businesses want to make their brand and premises more appealing to work for.

One significant step they can take to be more welcoming for people with disability is by making their hiring process more inclusive.

In 2021, The Body Shop hit the news for their recruitment approach for Christmas casuals – open hiring.

When recruiting through open hiring, candidates don’t need a resume, a reference, a background check or even an education.

The Body Shop partnered with APM Employment Services and found several dedicated employees to join their team. 

The scheme has been so successful it has continued every year in Australia and been adapted overseas with APM Group company Ingeus partnering with The Body Shop in the UK.

This method of hiring is targeted at people who have traditionally faced barriers to employment, such as the homeless, single parents, young carers, and Indigenous Australians.

All candidates had to do was answer three questions to secure a role:

  • Are you legally authorised to work in Australia?
  • Can you lift up to 11kg?
  • Are you happy to work with customers? (not a disqualifier)


Tips for leaders

While open hiring is more of a radical approach, there are several effective, smaller-scale improvements you can implement, such as:

  • Ensuring all job descriptions and application processes have an inclusion statement in them, and state you’re welcoming of applicants from different backgrounds.
  • Supplying the main interview questions, you'll be asking in writing to the candidate either before or at the time of interview which enables them to have extra time to process and give their best answer.
  • Hold educational and awareness sessions/events (in person or online) in your workplace hosted by a disability group or advocate.
  • Regularly seek honest feedback from your employees through internal surveys.
  • Ensure all employees are aware of all support services available to them, like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Woman with disability at her desk