Busting the disability employee myths

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In March this year, the Analysis & Policy Observatory (APO), an open access evidence platform, published a report detailing a very compelling case for disability employment in Australia, at the same time highlighting how unprepared Australian businesses are for disability employment.

The report discussed the barriers specific to Open Employment. Our research shows that in Australia, only 50% of people with disability of working age are in the workforce, versus 84% of those without disability.  The employment gap of over 30% has remained unchanged for twenty years.  And we lag other more progressive countries such as Italy with 13.3%, France 9.9% and Sweden 9.5%.

People with disability want to work for the same reasons as everyone else.  To be financially independent, to be contributing members of society and to make friends and meet people. Often, the pathway to Open Employment is through Supported Employment with companies such as Access Industries.  Some may go on to achieve their Open Employment goals, others may remain in Supported Employment.  One of the enablers for success for both options is for employers to think and act inclusively.

  • Recognise the talents of people with disability.
  • Acknowledge, understand and embrace the widespread nature of disability.
  • Communicate from the top that all people, including people with disability, have value, are respected and welcomed.

Open or Supported Employment – what’s the difference?

Open Employment is any job where people with disability and people without disability work together in the same or similar roles, in the regular job market.

In Open Employment, a person with disability may need to negotiate with their employer about the supports they can receive and how these supports, or adjustments, will be paid for.

Supported Employment, such as Access Industries offers, refers to settings that provide employment opportunities for people with disability who cannot work in the open labour market.  An employee with a disability may receive training and supports specific to their requirements in order to complete the tasks required in their job.

It is also the ideal environment where people with disability can be trained and supported to work towards their goals of achieving Open Employment, if that is what they want.

Access Industries has been providing supported employment, training and vocational skills for people with disability for over 74 years.  We currently have over 260 supported employees working alongside their peers of a combined workforce of over 500 employees. That makes us one of the largest, and longest-serving employers of people with disability in NSW.

It is our mission to assist our supported employees in transition to Open Employment, if that is their goal.  It is in the best interests of our employees to help prepare that pathway for them.

In support of helping to build the confidence of employers considering how to accommodate people with disability in their workplace, let’s bust a few disability myths, highlighted by the APO report.

Myth 1 – The cost is too high.

Not all people with disability require adjustments.  If they do, studies have shown that employers can reap $40 savings for every $1 invested in workplace adjustments (JobAccess Research Review 2023), brought about primarily through cost savings of not having to re-hire and re-train new workers.  Which segues smoothly into…..

Myth 2 – Employees with disability have a high turnover rate.

Up to eight different studies included in the APO’s review reported that hiring people with disability improved retention and reduced turnover.  While one study has found that employees with disability stay on the job four months longer on average than those without disability. At Access Industries, we can report a much higher figure.

Of our 260 supported employees, at least one quarter of those have been with us for longer than 10-20 years.  Some of the stalwarts have been working for 30-45 years.

Myth 3 – Employees with disability won’t fit in.

Common misconceptions that co-workers may not be comfortable working alongside a person with disability are outmoded.  At Access Industries, our employment model is all about inclusion and respect.  Our own experience concurs with the APO report, that employing people with disability has a positive impact on workplace culture. Diversity and inclusion enhance an employer’s relationship with staff and community.

Myth 4 – Productivity for people with disability is lower.

Nine separate studies in the APO report reveal productivity an advantage in the hiring of people with disability.  In one study of various disability types across different industries, 61% of employers considered productivity a major benefit.

At Access Industries, we have found that applying innovative adjustments and technology benefits all employees by making our operations and output more efficient, productive and safe.

Myth 5 – There is a higher risk of injury for employees with disability.

Four different APO studies evidenced that the presence of employees with disability improved workplace safety.

A hospitality-aligned industry study reported that people with disability have 34% fewer accidents than other employees.

Further studies have shown that improving workplace adjustments for people with disability has resulted in improved overall workplace safety.

Unlocking the potential

In an ideal world, all hiring managers and employers would be adopting long-term, sustainable measures to attract, employ and retain people with disability.

We have senior managers that started with Access Industries as a supported employee.  Some of these managers are also directors on the board.  Our supported employees work alongside their peers without disability in the same workplace environment as everyone else.

Our business operations include manufacturing timber products, packing solutions, launder & hire of linen, industrial sewing of retail products, a Registered Training Organisation and fundraising.  Some of our clients are globally recognised significant brand manufacturers and service providers.

Our on-the-job Training and Welfare Officers provide adapted training and support to optimise job skills.  It is our culture; it is our purpose; and it all started 74 years ago by a group of ordinary people who truly valued equality and inclusion.  It can be done.

We invite all Australian employers to think and act more inclusively, to help close the disability employment gap.

See full APO Report

Visit Access Industries