Employing people with disability is good (for business)

More than 18 per cent of Australians have a disability – one in five people. Yet despite decades of campaigning the level of employment for people with disabilities remains 30 per cent below that of people without. Meanwhile, data shows employing people with disability is not just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.

We would all be better off if more people with disabilities were employed. Research from Deloitte indicates an increase in employment of people with disabilities from 54 per cent to 64 per cent would boost Australia's GDP by $A40 billion over ten years. To put that another way, this would more than cover the costs of the government's National Disability Insurance Scheme.

"People with disabilities continue to experience what I refer to as the 'soft bigotry' of low expectations."
Graeme Innes, Former Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Chair of the Attitude Foundation

Even in the government sector, which we often expect to lead, the numbers of people employed in the Australian Public Service with a disability have actually dropped from around 7.5 per cent 12 to 15 years ago to 2.9 per cent.

By and large employers want to employ the best talent but they don't view people with disabilities as falling into that category. I can speak from my own experience.

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I graduated as a lawyer in Sydney in 1978 and spent 12 months trying to get a job. I went to around 30 job interviews because people just couldn't understand how a blind person could work as a lawyer.

Now this was 30-odd years ago – but the situation hasn't changed much. The high level of unemployment is no better now than it was back then. We've seen improvements in accessibility when it comes to technology, transport and our education system but we just haven't had an impact in the employment space.

Compared with other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries, Australia ranks last when it comes to employing people with disabilities. Last.

Some of the more successful OECD countries have significant tax incentives and targets or quotas on employment of people with disabilities. And that's something I lobbied for while I was Disability Discrimination Commissioner with the Human Rights Commission.

Some larger organisations do set targets but most employers don't. As a result, there isn't a lot of progress. After all, what you don't count doesn't count.

So people with disabilities continue to experience what I refer to as the 'soft bigotry' of low expectations. Expectations of us are low and as a result of those expectations, some of us don't achieve higher than that. But many of us do.


A disability is any condition that restricts a person's mental, sensory or mobility functions. It could be temporary or permanent, total or partial, lifelong or acquired, visible or invisible.

We're one in five of the population. Yet disability is still viewed by many people in a limiting and negative way. In particular, there's a whole stack of assumptions when it comes to employing people with disabilities.

Many employers assume it will cost more to employ us. It doesn't. Approximately 90 per cent of people with disabilities don't require any adjustment in the workplace and for the 10 per cent who do, the cost is usually less than $A500 and subsidised by the Australian government.

ANZ will host an event on Thursday 3 December for International Day of People with Disability to celebrate employees who have made a difference to colleagues and customers with disability.

The event will feature guest speaker Jessica May, CEO Enabled Employment and coincides with the relaunch of ANZ's Accessibility and Inclusion Plan (AIP), a long-term commitment to welcoming and supporting customers and employees with disability.

Employers assume people with disabilities won't stay in jobs. In fact, research shows we stay longer than employees without disabilities. Many also assume people with disabilities will make a higher level of workers compensation claims. But we make fewer claims. And we're better at dealing with the impact of our disability and are less likely to put ourselves at risk.

Employers also assume people with disabilities will take more sick leave when research shows we take less. We're also more resilient and better problem solvers, bringing different experiences and perspectives to the workplace as a result of the challenges we face in everyday life.

So we're the sorts of people employers say – and I believe do – want to have on board. The challenge is attitudes and assumptions.

That's why we launched the Attitude Foundation last year. We're creating documentaries to tell the stories of real people with disabilities. By challenging and changing people's thinking, attitudes and behaviour we hope to empower people with disabilities.

If we can change assumptions and shape a new understanding of disability in the community we should see an improvement in the employment space.

Graeme Innes is a former Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Chair of the Attitude Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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