For those with disability, work is more than pay cheque

Alexis is picture standing, facing the camera, smiling in front of her red work car

Today is International Day of People with Disability, helping to shine a light on the immense contributions people with disability make to our social, cultural and economic lives.

Although about 20 per cent of Australians are living with disability, this can often go unnoticed because many disabilities are non-visible, such as neurological disorders, mental illness, diabetes, brain injuries, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions.

In recent research we conducted at APM, we found that three in five people with disability say their disability is not visible (60 per cent), while a further quarter have both visible and non-visible disability and 62 per cent are living with multiple conditions.

While society is becoming more aware of difference, diversity and disability and we are becoming more inclusive of all abilities, there is still a way to go – especially when it comes to employment for people with disability.

After widespread upheaval caused by the pandemic, the Australian labour market has rebounded dramatically and with unemployment now sitting at an historically low 3.5 per cent, many industries are struggling to fill vacancies.

At the same time, employers increasingly report that their organisations have formal policies in place to support diversity and inclusion.

Despite this, and the intentions among most employers to recruit in the coming year, just 39 per cent are very or extremely likely to fill vacancies through active recruitment of people with disability.

With misperceptions about this underutilised segment of the labour market still prevalent, people with disability remain disadvantaged compared to the average working-age Australian when it comes to equity of employment.

We know an enormously important aspect of social inclusion is having a job.

We also know that workforce participation is much more than just a regular pay cheque because employment delivers numerous benefits, from improved self-confidence and a greater sense of autonomy to regular social interaction and community connectivity.

Yet, the participation rate for people with disability remains stubbornly low compared to working-age Australians without disability.

The good news is that businesses investing in a disability diverse workplace are likely to reap an even greater return than they might have thought.

This is because inclusive workplace practices are important to and create benefits for all employees and customers, not only people with disability.

Australia’s most decorated Paralympian, Ellie Cole is leading the charge for the new #DearFutureBoss campaign.

The #DearFutureBoss campaign is calling for people with disability, as well as their families, friends, carers, peers and employers to create and post an open letter describing the future workplaces they want to see, be employed by, or lead.

Ellie has submitted her own 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.

There are also numerous supports in place for employers and employees to help bridge this gap.

These include the Australian Government-funded financial support through wage subsidies, various supports from employment services providers, grants for workplace modifications for eligible job seekers, as well as access to training for members of a workforce to better understand their own health and the health needs of people with disability.

In my role at APM, every day I see the positive and lasting impacts that having a job makes to people.

The benefits are not limited to people living with disability and their employers – they extend throughout our communities.

Together, we have a responsibility to increase workforce participation and, in doing so, to unleash the immense potential of people living with disability.

Please join the conversation by sharing your own #DearFutureBoss letter.

Originally published in The West Australian, 3 December 2022.