CIT Industry Connection

Why employers aren't hiring people with disability (and it's not the reason you think)

People with disabilities face barriers to employment, including blatant and inadvertent barriers raised by employers - and many employers do admit being reluctant to take on a person with a disability.

But the good news is that most of the time, this reluctance doesn't stem from a prejudice about the person themselves, or their abilities or disabilities. The reluctance comes from a lack of confidence in their (the employers) ability to effectively facilitate the employee in the workplace.

Or at least, so says a report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, titled "What would it take? Employer perspectives on employing people with a disability".

The report says the "disability confidence" of employers is very low, meaning employers don’t feel they have enough knowledge and / or resources to manage the employment of someone with a disability.

How high is your disability confidence? Take this quiz to find out.

What is meant by "disability"?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (ABS 2003) refers to 'a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months'.

This includes all forms of disability, including physical, intellectual, learning and vision or hearing - which can vary in severity and the extent to which they impact on work.

Mental health is also included - and is of growing importance for businesses, given that more than one million Australians experience depression, anxiety or substance-abuse disorders each year. It is estimated that depression costs the Australian economy $6.3 billion each year in lost productivity and absenteeism.

Approximately 16% of the working age population in Australian have a disability of some form (2003 ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers).

What are the barriers faced by employers (and how can they be overcome)?

The following are some of the barriers summarised from the findings of the NCVER report "What would it take? Employer perspectives on employing people with a disability"(2010).

Answers have been provided by the Australian Employers Network on Disability.

BARRIER: Employers don't know what support a person with a disability would require, to what extent they are obligated to provide this support, how much it would cost, and whether there is funding available to assist.

Australian Employers Network on Disability: Under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992, employers have a 'positive duty' to implement reasonable adjustments for any candidate or employee. This can include things like ensuring an accessible bathroom is available in the building for a wheelchair user, allowing extra breaks for a person taking certain medications, or installing specific screen-reading software for people with vision impairment or learning disabilities.

Employers are required to implement reasonable adjustments unless they can demonstrate that doing so would constitute "unjustifiable hardship", generally of a financial nature.

Costs of reasonable adjustments are usually covered by the government's Workplace Modifications Scheme.

BARRIER: Employers don't want to say or do the 'wrong' thing in relation to people with a disability.

Australian Employers Network on Disability: The questions an employer can ask about a disability or injury relate to:

  • Any adjustments required to ensure a fair and equitable interview/selection process
  • If or how the disability may impact on the inherent requirements of a job
  • Any adjustments that may be required to adequately perform the inherent requirements of the job.

Any other questions about an individual’s disability are inappropriate, including questions about how the individual acquired their disability, or specific details of the individual's disability.

It is important to remember that when an employee discloses a disability to a manager, that manager cannot then disclose that information to anyone else without the employee's permission.

BARRIER: Employers are even more ignorant about mental disabilities than physical ones. How can employers best respond to mental health issues in the workplace?

Australian Employers Network on Disability: Positive and open communication is vital when managing an employee experiencing mental health issues. Listen, without judgement, and ask open ended questions to help the employee to open up about what workplace adjustments would help them to work more effectively.

If a medical professional recommends the employee takes time off from work, make sure you stay in touch with them during their time off so that they don't become cut-off and isolated. Keep them in the loop with any work newsletters etc, so they still feel connected. When the employee is ready to come back, make sure you have a return to work plan in place.

Implementing workplace wellbeing strategies, getting involved in promotions such as Mental Health Week and making mental health a topic for internal training are all ways to build a workplace culture that values mental health.

BARRIER: Employers don't know where to find people with disabilities who are looking for work.

Australian Employers Network on Disability: Being disability aware doesn't have to be about seeking out people with disabilities to join your workforce; rather, people with disabilities should not be prevented in any way from accessing general employment opportunities that arise within your organisation.

If you do want to specifically recruit people with disabilities into your workforce, your best bet is Disability Employment Services, who are government funded to help job seekers with disability to access individually tailored employment services. They provide ongoing support in the workplace for as long as it is required, and offer a range of free services to employers.

Disability Employment Services can also help employers access a range of other financial support and incentives, such as workplace modifications, assistive technology, mental health first aid training, disability and deafness awareness training, Auslan interpreting and wage subsidies.

Return to Industry Connection April 2010 >>

LEAVE A COMMENT: What has helped (or not helped) in your organisation to assist with employing people with a disability? What are the best ways to raise employer awareness and share information on disability employment issues?

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