No improvement for people with disability at Australian SMEs

Wed 29 November 2017

Cover of the Disability Confidence Survey

The hope of the NDIS is for people with disability to live ‘ordinary lives’.  An ordinary life means doing what we want to do, going to the places we want to go – being a customer and having a job.

But, despite customers being more empowered than ever, there has been no change in Small and Medium Enterprises' (SME) ability to be accessible and inclusive of people with disability in the past two years. 

The Australian Network on Disability (AND)’s 2017 Disability Confidence Survey, of more than 500 SMEs, finds that many businesses don’t have a good understanding of customers with disability. And, some still hold outdated stereotypes about the skills and capabilities of people with disability as employees.

This lack of understanding of people with disability as customers and employees is disappointing says the (AND)’s CEO Suzanne Colbert AM.

“Disability discrimination receives the highest level of complaints across the board to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). Our Survey finds that 60% of SMEs aren’t considering the four million Australians with disability. They need to think about how they can be more welcoming and inclusive,” said Ms Colbert. 

The Disability Confidence Survey report finds that six out of 10 SMEs have done nothing to make it easier for customers with disability to do business with them in the past 12 months, citing a lack of specific request as the main reason (50%).

According to Ms Colbert, this is supported by the AHRC’s report, Missing Out: The business case for customer diversity, produced in partnership with Deloitte Australia.

“The Missing Out report shows that 1 in 3 customers from diverse backgrounds, including people with disability, say their customer needs were often unmet over the past 12 months.”

“Customers are more empowered than ever, and competition is fierce. With 38% of families including a family member with disability - being accessible and inclusive makes good business sense and is the right thing to do. People with disability represent a substantial opportunity to businesses.”

The situation is disappointing for customers with disability, but for jobseekers with disability it is even worse. More than half of the businesses surveyed (58%) identify that they see their attitude to employing skilled people with disability as positive. However, only three in ten Australian SMEs actually employ people with a disability.

 “Many survey participants shared that they don’t feel that people with disability are relevant for their work or situation. But disability is diverse, it doesn’t discriminate, and it can happen to anyone. Employers cannot know with any certainty people with disability are not relevant for their work or situation.”

This is reflected in Simon Darcy, Tracy Taylor and Jenny Green’s report ‘But I can do the job’: examining disability employment practice through human rights complaint cases (December 2016), which found that employers incorrectly assumed that the costs of employing people with disability were higher than they are, or were unaware of government programs to offset the costs of reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

The Australian Network on Disability works in partnership with more than 200 large employers who are making it easier for people with disability to do business with them.

Small business is Australia’s largest business segment and they also need further guidance to welcome customers and employees with disability.

“The economic model of the NDIS is predicated on increased employment outcomes for people with disability. There needs to be significantly more investment if Australia is to deliver on the promise of an ordinary life for people with disability and all businesses will need to be part of change,” said Ms Colbert.

AND’s Access and Inclusion Quick Self-Assessment is a simple way to measure organisation’s current disability confidence and publications such as AND’s Welcoming Customers with Disability outline how to improve accessibility and inclusion for people with disability.

Call AND on 1300 363 645 or visit the AND website, to discover the many tools available.

Key findings

  1. 67% of our participants believe their customer base includes people with disability. This shows no change from 2016
  2. 57%, or more than half of these see customers with disability as being important to their organisation. “All customers are important…and everyone should be treated the same.”
  3. 62% of our participants have not done anything in the past 12 months to make it easier for customers with disability. For almost half of these, there is a perception of not being asked to. “We have received no specific requests.”
  4. 22% or less than one quarter of our participants plan to do something in the next 12 months. Physical access to premises, support and technology are the key areas of focus.
  5. 41% of our participants see the inclusion of job applicants with disability as important to their business. This is 16% less than when it comes to their customers. Worryingly, many businesses see job applicants with disability as “not appropriate for our work.”
  6. 30% of our participants are aware they employ people with disability, compared to 48% that don’t and a further 22% are unsure.
  7. 66% of those that do employ people with disability have experienced clear benefits including strengthening workplace morale, improved skills set, greater customer satisfaction and improved productivity.
  8.  58%, or more than half of survey participants see their attitude to employing skilled people with disability as positive.

Disability Confidence Survey Report

Read the full report

Download the Key Findings infographic

About the survey

Supported by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), Westpac Group, IBM and the Department of Defence, the Disability Confidence Survey is a measure of awareness and attitude of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to people with disability.


Suzanne Colbert AM, CEO, AND.

About the Australian Network on Disability

The Australian Network on Disability (AND) is a national, membership based, for-purpose organisation, that makes it easier for organisations to provide an accessible and inclusive environment for people with disability in all aspects of business. This includes employment, customer service, stakeholder relations and supply of goods.

We are driven by our belief that people with disability are skilled and capable social and economic contributors, entitled to equitable opportunities in society.

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