Disability and employment: Everyone’s responsibility

Almost one fifth of Australians, or 4.4 million people, live with a disability. These are our parents, children, colleagues and friends. But, at some stage in our lives, it could also be us.

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The final report of the Australian Disability Royal Commission released in September made clear a lack of awareness and understanding of disability rights is a significant issue in Australia.

The report says: “In 2018, 53 per cent of people with disability aged 15 to 64 were in the labour force compared with 84 per cent of people without disability. The labour force participation rate of people with disability has barely changed since 1993, notwithstanding various government strategies, policies and programs over many years”.

This lack of equal opportunities contributes to the “violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation that people with disability experience”. Those with multi-layered experiences, such as migrant workers, First Nations people or the LGBTIQ community, face even poorer outcomes.

Aside from the moral impetus for change, it is suboptimal nonsensical to marginalise such a broad segment of society. A society is healthier if everyone can contribute. Or to put an economist hat on - doing something because it is right is powerful, but if it also makes good business and economic sense, it becomes a superpower.

Currently, the unemployment rate for those with a disability is 10.3 per cent, more than twice as high as those without disability. There is an enormous untapped opportunity of 113,000 with disability seeking employment.

A 2011 Deloitte report suggests closing the gap between labour market participation rates and unemployment rates for people with and without disabilities by one third could have resulted in a cumulative $43 billion increase to Australia’s gross domestic product over the subsequent decade.  

A recent study from the Australian National University, into the promotional prospects of various demographic groups within the Australian Public Service found “at junior and mid-level positions, staff who do not report a disability enjoy better promotional prospects than those with a disability even when they look similar in every other way”.

Clear advantage

Research has shown that far from being a burden on employers, disabled people are resilient, adaptable and excellent problem solvers due to the extra work they do to engage with the world.

Organisations that employ people with disability see absentee rates drop. How we work and live is changing, with many people working and staying very active beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.

Of people aged between 60 and 64, more than a quarter are disabled. And once you turn 65, your chance of acquiring a disability is one in two. Businesses who appeal to a broad sweep of the potential workforce will have a clear and identifiable advantage.

In a recent article, Customer Advocate at ANZ Meg Dalling said a “one size fits all” approach is becoming antiquated as Australia and many other countries around the world see a continuing shift in demographics with ageing populations and increases in life expectancy.

In recent years there has been a rise in programs to get people with disabilities into work. For example, PACE is a program from the Australian Disability Network that pairs mentors and mentees.

John Sargent, Pricing Infrastructure Expert and Mentor at ANZ said: “I felt I could provide support as a mentor by reviewing resumes, doing mock interviews and offering feedback on their presentation skills, to hopefully give them confidence going into interviews.”

In ANZ Research we have worked to make our most read document, the ANZ Morning Note, more accessible. Embedding concepts like universal design, which improves products and services for a broad range of participants – particularly those with disabilities – can be done seamlessly.

The first STAR awards at ANZ were 17 years ago as a result of an initiative from Darren Baird, ANZ’s Digital Portfolio Lead, and member of the ANZ’s Abilities Network. They recognise people going above and beyond to make ANZ more accessible for employees, customers and the community.

The sort of behaviour the STAR awards have recognised over time has continued to strengthen. 

Impactful work

Over the years, awards have been given for increasingly impactful achievements, and whilst we’re still recognising individuals.

Last year, Karen Gillespie, Senior Manager Change Project Risk, Enterprise Finance, New Zealand was recognised for doing work that makes us all proud.

Following her son’s diagnosis of ADHD, and her subsequent feeling of isolation, Karen started a parent support group. She wanted it to be a place where parents could share ideas and strategies on managing neuro-diverse children, as well as navigating their way through the health and education systems.

This year the progression has continued. The submissions I have seen are complex, thoughtful and are about not just an individual impact, but also prompting organisational changes.  

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable”.

Richard Yetsenga is Chief Economist 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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