Event Wrap - Reimagining the workplace to drive disability employment

A woman sitting in a chair within an office

Image: a woman sitting in a chair within an office.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that organisations can and need to be innovative and flexible, so why not maintain this momentum and consider what disability employment could offer? With nearly 50% of people with disability (of working age) not in the labour force,1 this represents a significant opportunity for Australian employers.

This was the key message at the national webinar for employers hosted by JobAccess on Wednesday 17 June. Over 185 employers joined the online event for a comprehensive look at the strong business case for an inclusive workplace, the expert support and practical advice to make it happen in your organisation, and real life perspectives from both employers and employees on living and working with disability.

The time is right for positive change

With over 15 years’ experience in the disability sector, Daniel Valiente-Riedl, General Manager – JobAccess, believes there has never been a better time for organisations to fully embrace the potential of accessible and inclusive workplace practices.

“Many of you have started down this path with offering flexible working arrangements during the pandemic or are learning new ways to support and retain current employees navigate a constantly changing work environment. Some of you may require new staff as the economy recovers or you may have greater capacity to review policies and procedures.”

“Regardless, here at JobAccess we believe the time is right to start exploring a new talent pool for your business – the many talents and experiences of people with disability,” said Daniel.

Disability inclusion means stronger, better business outcomes

Importantly, there is a strong business case to support an organisation striving to become more inclusive.

“Research from Accenture2 found that organisations that embrace disability inclusion and employ best practice to support people with disability outperform their peers on profitability and value creation,” explained Daniel.

Inclusion also delivers benefits for all employees, not just those from target or minority groups. According to the Diversity Council of Australia-Suncorp Workplace Inclusion Index,3 in organisations working on diversity and inclusion efforts, a similar proportion of workers with and without disability were very satisfied with their jobs – and significantly more satisfied than workers with and without disability in organisations where no action was being taken.

“One of our favourite statements at JobAccess is ‘getting it right on disability get it right for everyone’, and the Workplace Inclusion Index clearly supports that. We’ve also certainly seen this in recent times with the introduction of accessible workplace practices to support all employees, living with or without disability,” shared Daniel.

Focus on the person, not the disability

This was a sentiment webinar panellist Deborah Fairbairn agreed with. Currently working in the reporting and complaints services of JobAccess, Deborah shared a highly impactful perspective on working with vision impairment, and how a supportive employer and the right workplace adjustments can help ensure a positive working life for people with disability and their colleagues.

“Some potential employers make an assumption that there will be a lot of difficulty with workplace modifications. Workplace modifications are not just physical adjustments – it is the practical application of creating a suitable working environment for the employee, regardless of whether that employee has a disability or not.”

“I work just like any other employee in my workplace and as anyone can have a good or bad day, and the team is there to support each other. Open and honest communication is the easiest way to build up a supportive relationship with your staff and colleagues and that is across employment generally, not just disability employment,” explained Deborah.

Deborah also encouraged employers to focus on the person and not their disability.

“Consider the prospective employee for their merits and abilities and don’t be frightened to ask questions. If the potential candidate has the skills and capabilities to do the work, you should consider them. Most people with disability have manageable conditions that do not prevent them from being capable of doing their work, some just require small adjustments to assist them to perform certain tasks,” said Deborah.

Highlight your commitment to disability inclusion

The webinar also heard from Sharon Carroll, Diversity and Inclusion Partner for Australia Post, a JobAccess Alumni and an employer committed to inclusive practices. Highlighting this commitment has been an important element in driving positive cultural change, with an increase in engagement, both for employees with disability and in teams who include people with disability.

“We are clear on our website about the types of jobs we have, what they involve and importantly, highlighting that we welcome applicants with disability. We work closely to provide continuous training and resources to help key teams, for example Recruitment, as well as Learning and Development who are responsible for delivery of induction training. We also have an employee network called Accessibility Matters. They are an absolutely brilliant group of people with lived experience who are starting to talk about disability more broadly,” explained Sharon.

Sharon also emphasised the importance of disability awareness training in further embedding inclusive workplace practices.

“It's been wonderful to watch key teams and how engaged they are now, and how open and curious they are to learning new things. It’s like we have unlocked the door, and through running disability confidence sessions, they want to know what more they can be doing and they also come to me with ideas they’ve had to make our processes more inclusive,” said Sharon.

Utilise expert support to remove barriers to disability employment

The final take out for employers is that they don’t have to manage disability employment efforts on their own. Employers were encouraged to tap into available supports, including JobAccess. As the national hub for disability employment, it offers a range of services including expert advice via phone (1800 464 800) and website, coordinating workplace adjustments and modifications and the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC) – the Employer Engagement service, who partner with larger employers to increase their disability confidence.

Watch the webinar recording

A recording of the webinar is available now to watch.

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