Untapped talent: Why your business should hire people with disability
Despite a well-established movement to increase diversity in the workplace, the representation of people with disabilities – which equates to one in five Australians – is disproportionately low.  However, when we look at success stories from those Australian employers that have tapped into this talent pool, it’s clear that many employees with disability are the right people for the job.

Research shows most employees with disability are highly productive, less likely to be absent, and are involved in fewer work accidents. Contrary to the perception that people with disability need additional time off, 86% of employees with disability have either an average or superior attendance record.

An inclusive workforce can also provide a better understanding of customers with disability, providing businesses with a competitive edge. So, why is this talent pool so widely overlooked?

Attitudes require action

Research shows that 77% of Australian employers are open to hiring people with disability, however only 35% of employers are hiring people with disabilities.

Assistant Minister for Social Services, Housing and Disability Services, Sarah Henderson says the Government wants to help employers turn their willingness into action.

“Around 4.3 million Australians live with disability, representing a large and important part of our community. They represent just under a quarter of our population and by not considering them as candidates, we’re not only doing them a personal disservice, but our businesses are missing out too,” Henderson says.

Making it happen

Compass Group Australia is a contract food service company employing more than 10,000 people. Over the past two years, the company has extended to include 136 people who identify as having a disability.

Rosie McArdle, Executive Director HR, Compass Group Australia, says it not only reflects the company’s commitment to equal opportunity and diversity but has brought wide-ranging benefits to the business.

I think, without exception, teams that include a person living with a disability have an advantage,” says McArdle. “Positivity is contagious. When working alongside someone with physical or mental challenges and supporting them to grow in confidence and skills, is extremely rewarding. These benefits also flow on to customers and our clients who are happy to see that everyone is getting a fair go.”

Compass Group worked with Disability Employment Services (DES) to find the right people to match their vacancies. JobAccess can also help your business to make any necessary changes to create flexible conditions to accommodate employees with disability.

McArdle says hiring people with disabilities requires a simple commitment to flexibility, which is a quality Australians value in an employer.

“We work with our site managers to discuss the needs and abilities of new employees and adaptability is the key to success,” says McArdle. “Most workplace adjustments tend to be of low or no cost and may include task check sheets, more frequent rotation of tasks, or modifications to the way we interview. We have also utilised JobAccess for a modified vacuum cleaner, a vibrating pager, as well as advice,” she says.

“Every individual is different,” adds McArdle. “Maybe a person can’t do a full eight-hour shift, or maybe they can’t stand for extended periods of time. They may be non-verbal or hearing impaired. In some cases, you cannot even tell that a person has a disability. As an organisation, we have the willingness and flexibility to challenge standard job specifications and create roles to best match a person’s capability.”

Courage and commitment

Ebru Dogan, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor at Gold Coast Health, says it currently employs around 8,000 full-time-equivalent employees and is committed to increasing its number of employees with disability.

“First and foremost, we want our workplace to better reflect the community we serve,” she says. “Our executive board are very supportive of it.”

Gold Coast Health partners with organisations such as JobAccess and DES to source candidates. “JobAccess are the experts in the field and we make sure we go to them when we need any support,” says Dogan.

Recruitment success comes down to having a clear process and ensuring that roles and capabilities are considered from different perspectives, adds Dogan. “My team's role is to educate and build that awareness. I've started presenting at new manager inductions and I suggest that when they recruit or if they have a vacancy, they could consider a person with disability.

“Traditionally, our recruits will go to cleaning or administration positions, but recently we had our first clinical placement in speech pathology,” says Dogan, adding that Gold Coast Health also employs Queensland’s first doctor with quadriplegia, Dr Dinesh Palipana.

The hospital provides training to breakdown any unconscious bias among hiring managers. In most instances, when a role has been identified, Dogan’s team completes a critical-demands assessment. “We identify the psychological and physical requirements of the role and give that to the employment provider to match appropriately,” she explains. “If there are any adjustments needed, we get work health and safety involved and work with external providers to assess and assist.”

Dogan says if more people with disability are to enter the workforce, employers must open their minds to the possibilities. “You also need to have the courage to really make a difference,” she says. “We all have action plans and strategies and targets, but you just need to start. It requires small steps, like sending out some communications or attending managers' inductions. But if you could just influence one person, then you're making a difference.”

To find out more about how your business can support the employment of people with disabilities, visit the JobAccess website