Whether you are in retail or hospitality, finance or construction, there are many compelling reasons why you should be actively hiring people with disability. Anecdotally, many employers avoid what they see as a complicated employment scenario. They foresee high costs, unreliability, integration difficulties…none of which are accurate and in fact may be the opposite of reality. And, as we reach a nine year low for unemployment, there has never been a better time to start addressing it – not just to ensure people from all sectors of society have the opportunity to lead a fulfilling life, but to make sure our businesses are benefiting from the diverse perspectives and views they bring.
Here are four benefits to doing so.
According to the ABS (Disability and Labour Force Participation data), over 2.1 million working age Aussies (age 15-64) have a disability. The Australian Govt Institute of Health and Welfare (2017) reports that only 53% of people with a disability are employed compared to 83% of non-disabled.
There are many complex factors relating to these figures such as access to financial and physical resources for the employee to train and get to work; lack of confidence due to living in an ableist world where one feels odd for being unique; the availability or not of carer support to name a few. The underlying thread here is that we have such a long way to go to address the social Model of Disability and we are living in an ableist world.
There are also many low cost (often government funding supported) options for addressing these factors; these options (such as flexible working hours) will carry genuine benefits for your entire staff base, and these factors are genuinely not as significant as they may seem.
So – why employ from this great ocean of potential staff?
1. Expand your talent pool. Talent shortage is an issue often faced by businesses. By expanding your search to include those outside of the traditional realm of “talent,” you open yourself to over a million additional people who all bring unique and important views, skills and could have a profound impact on your business and organisational culture.
2. Enhance your culture. Gender equality and racial balance are often spoken about when we hear diversity and inclusion – but what about those with a disability? Not only will incorporating this large sector of society into your workforce bring more empathy and compassion among your staff, it will also mean they understand how to interact and tailor service for clients with disabilities, bringing a huge pool of potential business. And going a long way towards normalising disability.
3. Access more diverse skills. Resilience, lateral thinking and creative problem-solving are all highly sought-after skills in hiring practices, but no one understands how to apply these skills to day-to-day life than those who have to use them to get by. People with disability are forced to learn many physical and adaptive skills to overcome their condition, and these translate to the workforce in many ways. There are many famous examples of how this has transformed history – from schizophrenic John Nash Jr creating Nash’s Theory, to every literal lightbulb moment thanks to the totally deaf Mr Edison, to child onset Muscular Dystrophy being the catalyst for mobility device pioneer Ralph Braun in creating the first battery-powered scooter and wheelchair lift – and many others who have embedded these difficult-to-teach skills in their thinking.
4. Test your flexibility. An inclusive working environment does not need to be difficult or expensive. Flexible working has become a critical aspect for any job seeker, and many businesses have worked to tailor their offering to adapt, such as job sharing or working from home, but we can go further. A person with autism that is an IT programmer might simply need a quiet area to listen to headphones for a short time periodically, or a wheelchair user may need you to add electronic door openers to make the rest room completely accessible. Employing someone with more diverse needs will test just how well you’re actually doing on flexible working and improve your offering for all potential staff. The video below shows just how well this has worked for others.
These reasons aren’t exclusive to employing people with disability. In fact, businesses already focus on many of these areas, but unless you expand it to all potential employees, you’re limiting your business’ potential to achieve higher profits and long-term profit stability, and you disregard a large group of contributing members of our country.
We live in a fiscally driven and short-term focussed world and an income is essential for us to maintain part of our basic physiological human needs – those of food, water, and shelter . But participating in the workforce is not just about the cash; it brings to us all yet another human need – that of belongingness. The social and individual good derived from including everyone in the workforce far outweighs the continued damage to society and misunderstandings, caused by ableist notions and actions , of what it means to be disabled.
In summary I offer to you in the immortal words of Charles Dickens’ character’s, Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley:
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge
“Business!” cried the Ghost ,wringing it’s hands again. ” Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop in the water in the comprehensive Ocean of my business!”[sic.]
Handy references for employees and employers:
Disability Employment Australia’s Employer provider search
Eggress Group provide industry based training and workshops on technical topics to increase awareness of and understanding of accessibility and design concepts among other services
The Disability Leadership Institute includes the provision of disability entrepreneurship, mentoring and CV assistance among many other services