We need to talk about disability
The rate of unemployment for people
with a disability is 7.1 per cent. You might think that's not too
bad, except that the unemployment rate doesn't really tell you
much. The more telling statistic is that their workforce
participation rate is almost three times worse than the rest of the
Some people with disability opt out of the workforce because they
have no choice; their disability is so severe it renders them
unable to work. Many more, however, want to be employed but feel
they can't apply for jobs because of the stigma permeating many
This was front of mind last week at a disability employment
conference I attended. An audience member asked a bureaucrat a
question. The problem, he said, wasn't that there weren't enough
candidates desiring employment. The problem was that many employers
still view workers with disability as being inferior to everyone
else. How can that be overcome?
The bureaucrat's solution was novel. He suggested recruiters
should put candidates forward for vacancies without describing them
upfront as having a disability. That way, the employer's first
impression isn't focused on what the candidates can't do but on
what they can.
Why the negative perception still persists is a mystery. Research
proves workers with disability take fewer sick days than those
without. They are also less likely to resign and there are no
differences in productivity, performance, workplace injuries and
And yet looking back to my previous employers, I can't recall ever
seeing a person with disability employed in the office. These were
some of Australia's largest organisations with the capacity to at
least experiment but it never, as far as I was aware, happened.
One reason could be employers expect so much from their employees.
This was validated just this week with the release of a
comprehensive report that confirmed the balance between work and
life is deteriorating, resulting in $110 billion of unpaid labour a
So it's possible, then, that many bosses are thinking: if my usual
employees can barely handle their workload, what chance would a
person with a disability have?
That viewpoint was reflected in a survey conducted two years ago
by the Australian Human Resources Institute. Among organisations
that had never hired an employee with disability, almost half said
it was not on their radar to do so. A third admitted there would be
a lack of managerial support, with a quarter saying there's a
belief they'd be a risk and wouldn't perform as well.
This perpetuates an endless cycle. With relatively few people with
disability employed in the workforce, their lack of visibility
feeds the incorrect perception they can't be effective at work. The
consequence of such a perception isn't limited to their employment
prospects but also to their self-esteem.
References and further information