The disability employment journey starts now. Hear from employers who are on their way

3 June 2022

JobAccess’ webinar, Disability Employment 101: opening the door to candidates with disability, attracted more than 200 public and private employers from around Australia, including many JobAccess alumni.

There was a broad range of people from the disability and inclusion, and HR sector, and frontline management, said JobAccess General Manager Daniel Valiente-Riedl.

“The audience was comprised of attendees who are in the position to make real and substantial change in their organisations,” he said.

People with disability have the skills. They are looking for an opportunity.

Keynote speaker, Australian Paralympian and triple medallist Don Elgin, talked about his limited exposure to disability in his formative years despite acquiring one at birth.

“I was born without the lower half of my left leg and a left thumb, and fingers on both hands were stuck together. I had open heart surgery at the age of three.”

“Words like ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped’ or any other descriptive words we use – (while I am) not opposed to those – I just never heard them growing up.

I grew up believing I could do what everybody else could.”

Don shared his experience of competing at the Paralympic Games and how it impacted his perception about disability.

“What I realised as I embarked on my career is that I have got to learn more about driven people with disabilities, and when you travel the world with people who don't have vision or with people in wheelchairs and missing legs, there is a few things that happen.

“One, you get to see a genuine triumph over adversity day in and day out. And people with disability – in my experience – come to terms with the fact that this is their card. It was now up to them to play it.

“The ones playing it and getting stuck into life were not sitting at home waiting for others, the only thing they wanted was an opportunity.”

He encouraged employers to check in on themselves regularly, so they can best support people with disability in the workplace.

“I want you to be a little selfish and to ask the question, ‘Are you OK?’, and have you done what you need to look after yourself first? Because at some point, the journey you are embarking on to help other people does get hard.

“You have choices to do anything you want and be wherever you want.”

Disability employment: bridging Australia’s skills gap

Daniel Valiente-Riedl discussed the skills shortage facing Australian businesses due to the impact of COVID-19.

A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics report found almost one in five businesses did not have enough staff based on current operations, while nearly seven in 10 employers impacted by skills shortages were unable to find suitable staff.

“More than ever before, labour shortages have made it important for businesses to be smart and innovative when recruiting new talent while up-skilling and retaining current employees.

“One pool of prospective employees that employers often overlook is people with disability,” he said.

“Research has highlighted the clear benefits of building and supporting a socially diverse and inclusive workforce. This includes the participation of people with disability in employment.”

Uncovering recruitment challenges and opportunities

The employer panel discussed challenges they faced to attract and employ candidates with disability, and strategies to support their disability confidence.

Gemma Fletcher, Culture and Capability Partner, Programmed, said the main challenges are confidence and capability.

“Hiring managers are responsible for doing their own recruiting. And they may each have a varying level of knowledge and capability,” she said.

“Accessibility is something we need to normalise and consider.

“One of the things we have done is establish a dedicated accessibility contact. This person will assist people with accessibility requirements and adjustments, which could be throughout the recruitment process or also throughout the employment life cycle.”

Penny Rush, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager, Aurecon, said a lack of disability confidence continued to be a challenge.

“Things like the accessibility of our website, low awareness of our recruiters in how to create safe spaces for people with disability to disclose (share access requirements) what they need to fully participate in recruitment processes.

“We have been looking internally as well as what we are presenting externally for candidates. We have added disability as one of our diversity pillars in our inclusion plan. That is a significant signal to the business that this is important work, and we will need to play a role in doing it.

“We provide support to carers of people with disability through online coaching (and) have been doing a huge amount of storytelling, bringing in stories of our colleagues with disability to light and creating empathy and understanding and increasing confidence and reducing fear.“

“We also have (disability awareness) training organised by JobAccess which was fantastic.”

Nigel Blackwood, Advisor Talent Acquisition, NSW Department of Communities and Justice, said that shattering stereotypes and demystifying preconceived ideas hiring managers and staff may have about people with disability.

We entered a partnership with JobAccess over the last 12 months and got them to do a complete independent (review) of everything we have available and get them to work through with us, around our disability confidence.

“Our team's confidence has improved exponentially, hiring managers have a real appetite to engage more inclusively, and the business is looking for opportunities to employ people with disability and recruit more inclusively generally.

I think the other really nice thing is that of course, by having people with disability employed in frontline service delivery roles, we are starting to reflect the community where we can serve more every day and our customers are seeing that more every day and are getting a better service as a result.”

Larger employers can enter into a free partnership with the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC). Through the partnership, you work with a dedicated expert to receive tailored one-on-one support to develop workplace policies and practices that inclusively support people with disability.

Call a JobAccess Adviser on 1800 464 800 to connect with the NDRC.

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