Four attitude-change areas to help Australians with a disability

Almost 20 per cent of Australians, around four million people, live with a disability. 

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However, the employment of people with disability in Australia lags well behind other OECD countries –ranking 21st out of 29 OECD in this area.

" A shift in mainstream Australia’s attitude towards people with disability… [will] create a flow-on effect in our communities, workplaces and the economy."
Christine Linden, General Manager, Regional Business Banking, ANZ

Australia also has a poor track record of recognising human rights for people with disability, ranking last (27th of 27) in OECD countries for people with a disability living in or near poverty.

These statistics alone should provide a powerful trigger to attitude-change towards people with disability.

In a review into the Australian government’s NDIS proposal PWC said “active participation of those with a disability in society generally can only occur with a change in attitude.  This is something that can’t be legislated; people need to see the reason why change is important”.

A shift in mainstream Australia’s attitude towards people with disability, along with improved inclusion, will profoundly benefit these individuals and create a flow-on effect in our communities, workplaces and the economy.

There are four areas a change in attitude can help Australians with a disability.

The Attitude Foundation’s vision is to live in an Australia in which people with disability are welcomed and fully included on an equal basis in every aspect of life.

The Foundation’s goal is to drive a material change in attitudes and lives through telling the stories of real people with a disability. You can read more about the foundation HERE.


Misconceptions about people with disability abound in mainstream Australian society.

Assumptions and stereotypes are common about how people with a disability live, with pity and sympathy usual responses, as well as commonplace language choices such as ‘suffering’.  

An attitude-change for the better would see society move to accommodate people who don’t function in typical ways; not seek to change such people to accommodate society. 

Take education, for example. According to the ABS, in 2009, 25 per cent of people with a profound or severe disability aged 15 to 64 completed Year 12, compared to 55 per cent of non-disabled people.

Housing too presents challenge. Nearly 300 people with disability under 50 years are admitted to nursing homes in Australia each year, with 53 per cent receiving a visit from a friend less than once per year.

People with a disability can be participating citizens, but social systems need to recognise human diversity and accommodate disability as an expression of it.


Recruiting people with disability brings more workforce diversity and an increase in new ideas and ways of doing business.

A report from the Business Council of Australia found in order to remain competitive, business needs to reconsider methods of attracting and retaining employees.

“Inclusion, diversity and flexible work practices aren’t just fashionable concepts, they are at the heart of workplaces of the future. Those workplaces need to be designed to unlock the best in all Australians,” said then BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott.

In addition, Australian business stands to benefit from increased employment of people with a disability. Attracting, recruiting and retaining employees with disability can provide a significant and often overlooked opportunity for business, as well as a solution to Australia’s skills shortage.

Finally, at a consumer level, businesses that fail to make their products and services accessible to people with disability, or don’t build their expertise to welcome customers with disability, risk missing out of a four million person market.


It’s well known Australia has participation and productivity challenges which need to be addressed in order to achieve growth needed to underpin long-term prosperity and social wellbeing.  

There is an economic imperative to increase labour force participation and help to address impending labour shortages and financial pressures. 

In 2012, the Australian Network on Disability commissioned a study which projected the positive outcome if governments and employers were able to increase employment rates for Australians with disability by one-third over the next decade (from 54 to 64 per cent) as well as reduce the unemployment rate for people with disability by 0.9 basis points to 6.9 per cent.

The results indicated the increase in workforce participation would result in a cumulative boost to Australia’s GDP of $A40 billion in the next decade. If unemployment was also reduced, GDP could increase by an additional $A43 billion in the coming decade.

Employment also importantly contributes to a sense of identify and self-worth and have positive health impacts for some people with disability.


Greater inclusion and employment opportunities for people with disability have obvious benefits: greater income and with this, higher living standards and financial independence.

Transforming our society to be more inclusive of people with disability (not only through employment initiatives) we will see greater participation in broader community activities and further independence.

Alongside a shift in this area is the potential to realise significant benefits for others nearby such as the individual’s family and carers.

The Attitude Foundation aims to break down social and community misconceptions and create a more inclusive and accepting society.

Its work and focus can will lead to better education and employment opportunities for people with disability, a boosted economy where employers are not apprehensive about employing jobseekers with a disability and a society where people with disabilities have greater spending power, feelings of greater self-worth and achieve better overall health. 

By following the lead of organisations like the Attitude Foundation and shifting our approach, Australia might soon be able to recite statistics we’re proud of, and stand tall for making our country a more inclusive and accessible place for everyone.

Christine Linden is General Manager, Regional Business Banking at ANZ

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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