Businesses are missing out if they don't consider people with disabilities.
It’s no wonder Australia has the lowest disability employment rate in the developed world - many businesses simply aren’t aware of the endless and ongoing benefits that come from hiring workers with disabilities.
Hiring someone with a disability is simple, enriching and equips businesses with entirely new skillsets, but the fear of the unknown is the number one barrier facing workers with disability in Australia today.
Another barrier is the misconception that those with a disability are somehow less than – less worthy, less talented and less professional – and this is simply not true.
Employers may also have a misguided expectation that people with a disability will present challenges in the workplace, when in reality they are excellent problem-solvers. People who live with disability often have unique and well-practiced skills that others don’t. After all, they spend their whole lives problem-solving just to exist in a world that wasn’t built for them. A disability does not mean a person can’t work hard, isn’t ready to work or can’t get the job done. It may be done a little differently, and that’s okay.
Employers may be uneducated or unaware of the requirements to hire someone with a disability, which can be daunting. That’s why organisations like ours offer help to find grants and to make necessary – and usually small – changes, like adjusting the height of a desk or providing a piece of assistive technology. There is a misconception that hiring people with disabilities is expensive, yet research suggests that the changes employers make after hiring someone with a disability are usually far less than $500. And sometimes, there aren’t any extra costs at all.
One in five Australians – or a staggering 20 per cent of the workforce – has a disability, and of these, very few are employed. Here’s how we can change that.
- CHALLENGE PRECONCEIVED IDEAS OF WHAT AN EMPLOYEE WITH A DISABILITY CAN OFFER YOUR WORKPLACE
Everyone has internal biases in our conscious or subconscious minds. These are informed by how we were raised and what we learnt from our parents, caregivers, friends, family and society as a whole. Such biases are the root of the misconception that people with disabilities are less capable – if people were raised with this line of thinking, that is more than likely what they come to believe. Business leaders and employers have these too and need to actively work to unpack and challenge such deep-rooted core beliefs.
- START SMALL AND ADOPT A ONE-THING-AT-A-TIME APPROACH
There’s no need to tackle every accessibility or inclusion issue in the workplace all at once. Start with the easier and smaller tasks and work up to the bigger ones. For example, get rid of fluorescent lighting; many people with disabilities struggle with its intensity. Or, more simply, just make sure the coffee cups are reachable. Check for access requirements when booking a meeting – that means asking, “Is there anything you need to be present in this meeting?”
A simple question like that can have a huge impact. Being a more accessible and inclusive workplace could be as easy as becoming a headphone-friendly workplace. Some people in the office might be stimulated by background music but others might need to block out sounds with noise-cancelling headphones. Be prepared to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Things might feel different or unusual initially, but once a business starts doing something – no matter how small – it’s already on its way to increasing its accessibility and inclusion.
- LEARN ABOUT THE SERVICES THAT ARE AVAILABLE TO HELP EMPLOY A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY
There’s another misconception that hiring someone with a disability is going to break the bank but that won’t be the case. There are government agencies and Queensland-based organisations like ours who can support businesses with the knowledge, tools and resources to help them welcome employees with a disability.
- INVEST IN SOME DISABILITY AWARENESS TRAINING
Knowledge and understanding about people with a disability is key to breaking down the fear of the unknown – often the biggest factor in hampering inclusion. Awareness training might provide the knowledge you need to hire people with disability, but don’t forget they’re customers too – so it’s a win-win all around! CPL Group offer disability awareness training and can modify training to suit individual business needs.
Most training sessions run for a full day but can be shortened into half day sessions if required. Finally, ask other businesses how they’ve succeeded in hiring people with disabilities – to inform your hiring strategy and approach, find out first-hand what’s worked - and what hasn’t - and go from there.