By Ron Maxwell - CEO

There are more than 2.1 million Australians living with a disability, yet only 53 per cent of those who are working age are employed. Even taking into account that not all people with a disability are able to work, this is still a low figure.

In fact, Australia ranks 21st out of 29 Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) countries when it comes to employing people with disability, yet research shows that recruiting from this community is a good thing for all of us – the individual, the business, and the Australian economy.

Employment changes lives

For individuals with a disability, employment brings increased economic security, independence, a greater sense of self-worth, and engagement with the community. And this is, in a word, life-changing.

I’ve talked before about the impacts of long-term unemployment and these effects are only heightened for people with a disability. Mental health and depression are core issues that not only have a destructive impact at an individual and community level, but also increase the cost of welfare and support services.

Businesses can reap rewards

Employing people with a disability is a good thing for the business itself. Research shows that businesses employing a person with a disability typically find the employee highly motivated, less likely to take absences or be involved in work safety related incidents, and more like to stay with the business long-term.

When I talk to employers who have hired an employee with a disability, I often hear that the decision has had a positive impact on the company’s culture, and increased loyalty and commitment across the team. And this is backed up by research; employees in inclusive workplaces are 19 times more likely to experience job satisfaction than those in non-inclusive environments.

So why is Australia ranked so low in this area?

In my opinion, there are many misconceptions about hiring people with a disability, and this is one of the biggest barriers to employment for them. The most common misconception is that the experience will be costly and difficult.

Employers tend to be wary of the perceived need to make drastic changes to the workplace to accommodate their new worker, when in many cases the adjustments are slight, such as adding additional software to existing computers or providing larger monitor screens.

And there are government incentives to cover these costs. Employers can access subsidies of up to $10,000 per year through Australian Government programs such as Disability Employment Services.

A team member who is motivated, loyal and hard-working is a great thing, and coupled with the financial support available, employing a person with a disability makes sense from a business perspective.

The economy will thrive too

The cost of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is high, reaching around $22 billion annually. By placing people with a disability in paid employment, we are reducing the costs to the scheme, as the individual gains not only a level of economic independence, but increased self-worth, motivation and engagement – all of which can contribute to reducing associated health issues, such as depression.

In fact, Deloitte reported that increasing workforce participation amongst Australians living with a disability by just 10 per cent, could have an impact on Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of up to $40 billion by 2021. And if we look at just one sector of this community, people with profound hearing loss, studies show that reduced employment is causing a loss to the Australian economy of an estimated $9.3 billion in 2017 alone.

Awareness is key

Part of the issue is that many businesses simply aren’t aware of the benefits of hiring someone with a disability, and in many cases, it isn’t even on their radar.

Disability employment rates in regional communities tend to be higher than those of cities, and in my opinion, this has a lot to do with community engagement. Regional businesses tend to have a much higher level of engagement in their local community and opportunities to hire people with a disability can often come from knowing the individual or family.

This level of connection isn’t always possible in cities, so raising awareness plays a key role. Stories in our media can often focus on the benefits to the individual employee, failing to highlight that many of the wins are also for the business.

But there are stories out there that showcase the business benefits such as that of Bourke’s Wholesale Fruit and Veg, who worked with VERTO to recruit John Crasti, a young man who broke his neck in an accident. The company experienced all the business benefits I have discussed here, and say that John’s work ethic is second to none.

If we can change the way we talk about employing Australians with a disability, to focus on the advantages for everyone involved, we can help more businesses see that hiring Australians with a disability is a sound business decision - and one that benefits us all.