Business Benefits of Hiring People with a Disability

Around one in every five people in the Australian community has some form of disability (18.5% ABS 2009). It is from this community that organisations draw their existing and potential employees, clients, shareholders, business partners and service providers. Our community is also ageing; it is estimated that four in 10 workers will be aged 45 or over by 2020. As disability increases with age, this has significant workplace implications.

In Australia’s competitive marketplace, both domestically and globally, and while facing skills shortages, we simply can’t afford to ignore this huge market segment of the community, as employers and as service providers.

The most significant barrier for people with disability, however, still appears to be the stereotypical assumptions and attitudes of employers about what people with disability can and cannot do.

There are three key reasons that necessitate a change in this thinking:

  1. People with disability no longer accept less than equitable and fulfilling opportunities, both in the workplace and in daily life.
  2. Technology has removed many barriers faced by people with disability and enabled more people to reach their full potential.
  3. The economic and social cost of ignoring 20% of the population is unsustainable.

Further employer misconceptions preventing the full inclusion of people with disability in the workforce include:

  • The perceived cost in terms of employing a person with a disability in terms of possible workplace adjustments
  • The lack of awareness and confidence in creating a workplace which is inclusive of people with disability
  • The perceived impact on workers compensation, sick leave and OH&S regulations
  • The belief people with disability will take up too much time to manage
  • The fear of other people in the workplace doing or saying the wrong thing

However, Australian (Deakin University 2002) and overseas studies have found that workers with disability are no more likely to be injured at work than other employees and there are no differences in performance and productivity.  It was also identified that employees with disability actually have fewer scheduled absences than employees without disability as well as increased tenure. On average, employing people with disability does not cost any more than employing people without disability. Assistance with the cost of making workplace adjustments is available through the Australian Government funded Employment Assistance Fund.

The principles of employment are the same for people with disability as those without disability.  The main focus should be on the skills, talents and capabilities the person with disability can bring to the workplace.

Many progressive organisations are increasingly recognising the business benefits, beyond the right thing to do or compliance with legislation, of employing people with disability, including:

  • Being an Employer of Choice - attraction of employers through access to a broader talent pool as people with disability bring a diverse range of skills and abilities and new and valuable perspectives to the workplace
  • Retention – retaining existing employees who develop or acquire a disability as they age
  •  Shifting demographics – an ageing  population and increased incidence of disability not only impacts workforce but also means changing markets
  •  Increased use of technology - enhancing opportunities for people with disability 
  • Greater creativity, innovation and product development - understanding the needs of people with disability as a service provider is critical in retaining those customers
  • Improved customer service and attraction - being disability confident, including how to  communicate with customers with disability, enhancing customer service
  • Reputation & Brand - according to a University of Massachusetts survey, 92% of the American public view companies that hire people with disability more favourably than those that do not; 87% of the public also agree that they would prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with disability
  • Procurement process & tender documents – increase in companies seeking information from suppliers on their employment and CSR programs and encouraging tenders from diverse suppliers. 
  • Strengthening workplace morale and productivity through a more committed and diverse workplace
  • Risk management - compliance with legislative requirements and meeting international standards reduces litigation risk.

There are a range of Australian Government incentives available to assist businesses to create a more diverse workforce.

 Further details about workplace adjustment funding can be found at www.jobaccess.gov.au.