Look at the current statistics around disability and employment in Australia and it quickly becomes clear why it’s so important for businesses to focus their attention towards improving disability inclusion in the workplace in 2023 (and beyond).

According to the latest report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) in 2022, around 4.4 million Australians live with disability – that’s 1 in 6 people. Despite this only 48% of people with disability are employed, which is twice as high as it is for those without disability.

The reality is, however, that people with disability are motivated and eager to work. Like anyone else the impact of unemployment is beyond just economic security; employment status can also impact living conditions, the ability to support families, mental health, social connection, confidence, and general quality of life.

In Australia, 224,000 people living with disability intend to, or are actively looking for, work in the labour force and around 1 in 10 want to work more hours than they do and are available for additional employment.

This is not to say employers are consciously neglecting the needs of people with disability and many organisations are prioritising disability inclusion in the workplace since the pandemic. COVID-19 proved that companies can be adaptable and certain adjustments (including work from home arrangements) can exist and not hinder productivity or outcome.

However, it’s evident there’s still hesitation when it comes to cultivating a more inclusive workforce. A 2022 YouGov survey of hiring managers and HR professionals in Australia revealed that 50% of their organisations have never hired a person with disability and nearly 10% admit they wouldn’t want to in the future.

This is likely due to the common misconception that individuals with disabilities are less productive compared to their more able-bodied peers and that it’s too costly to hire a person with disability due to various workplace modifications and other investments needed to do so.

In reality, many companies are missing out on an untapped pool of talent and disability inclusion is, and should be, a critical part of any business.

Below are just three of the many reasons why companies should start considering hiring a person with disability and make necessary changes to foster a truly inclusive workplace:

  1. Hiring a person with disability can overcome recruitment challenges and widen the pool of working-age people able to apply for their jobs: People with disability are just as skilled and qualified as their able-bodied peers and often bring fresh and innovative perspectives to the table.
  2. Cater to a wider audience base: Having employees with lived experience of disability means organisations can resonate with customers who may also be living with disability. This will lead to higher satisfaction rates as well as enhanced public image.
  3. Improved productivity, increased retention, and lower turnover rates: Due to the barriers that exist for many people with disability the option to leave and seek other employment is unfortunately much lower. Employees with disability are therefore generally more committed to their role and often stay with the same employer for longer. This means that any investment made to accommodate disability inclusion in the workplace isn’t wasted and employers can benefit from reduced recruitment costs in the long-term.

It’s not an easy jump to make and there are a lot of things to consider (of course, equal opportunities goes beyond just the hiring process) to achieve full inclusivity.

In the meantime, what steps are you taking to prioritise disability inclusion in the workplace? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.