Knowledge, expert support and results awaits employers who embrace disability employment

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Image: a man standing in an office.

When considering a new initiative or project, most would agree that a strong business case, expert support and practical examples to follow are important components that a manager would want to see. The recent JobAccess employer seminar, Driving Disability Employment, offered all this and more for managers looking to embrace the potential of disability employment.

The online event, held on 10 November 2020 and co-hosted by Seeing Machines, saw a range of experts share their experiences and discuss supports to help organisations access the unique skills people with disability have to offer.

The business case for disability employment is strong

JobAccess has long been encouraging a shift in the conversation about disability employment, explained Daniel Valiente-Riedl, General Manager, JobAccess and one of the event speakers, drawing on 15 years’ experience in the disability sector for his address. “Rather than focusing on disability employment as ‘simply the right thing to do’, we encourage employers to look at the business case. When employing people with disability, employers access a talent pool of jobseekers that are productive, safe, reliable, and economical1,2.”

“While the overall percentage of people with disability in the labour force is low, this talent pool is part of the Australian workforce and contributes to the economy.

More than one million employed people with disability work in all industries and diverse occupations nationwide, 33 percent work as professionals or managers3 and over 90 percent of employers who had recently employed a person with disability said they would be happy to continue to employ people with disability4. So are you ready to join them?” encouraged Daniel.

An employer who has already embraced the potential is Seeing Machines, JobAccess Alumni and seminar co-hosts. JobAccess Alumni are a cohort of larger employers who have completed a 12 month partnership with the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (NDRC), the JobAccess Employer Engagement service, to build their disability confidence and instil inclusive workplace practices.

Seeing Machines’ Project Embrace created targeted opportunities in Canberra for the local community of neuro-diverse candidates, working on the organisation’s innovative Guardian driver monitoring technology. Through this project, Seeing Machines has realised the benefits of an inclusive workplace, with Paul McGlone, CEO and Executive Director, Seeing Machines commenting “What a team we have. They are keeping drivers and communities safe, and making a magnificent impact on safety in more than 20 countries worldwide.”

Erica Collins, Director, Field & Technical Operations (Fleet) for Seeing Machines echoed these sentiments, and explained how neuro-diversity within the team has contributed to business excellence. “Our path to success was based on a clear vision, being passionate, and selling that vison to leadership. We wanted to bring people on the spectrum on board. We advertised it as a professional role and were employing them because of their skills. They are a competitive advantage because of their attention to detail, and ability to complete repetitive tasks.’’

The project has also driven improvements in process and management, with the changes being easier than expected to make, according to Cynthia Catterton, US-based GC Business Manager for Seeing Machines. “We have changes that we made to our training and hiring process, and our day-to-day workspace. It didn't just benefit the team in Canberra but also the team in Tucson, Arizona (which does not have neuro-diverse members). As a manager, I became more organised as neuro-diverse candidates are more organised and hold you accountable – it was a great outcome overall. It’s been an eye-opener for me, for Seeing Machines, and everyone else – it shows we can employ people with disability and they can just pick it up without a scratch in the surface. I look forward to doing more work with people with disability.’’

Clear communication and increasing exposure is key to building confidence, with small changes able to make a big impact

In addition to learning about the experiences of Seeing Machines, the seminar also heard from another JobAccess Alumni, Gail Johnson, Director Strategies – Learning Branch at the Department of Defence. Gail offered practical advice on how her Department removed workplace barriers.

“When we looked at all of the processes, there were just slight tweaks that made the world of difference to …accessibility.

We started with a strong message that while managers might have to make some small changes, which can be massive to somebody's ability to access the process, we also made it clear that anyone coming into Defence comes under all of the same rules and expectations. We might have to put in some reasonable adjustments but basically we are hiring just the same way. It made the job of accessibility changes a lot easier.’’

“It’s critical to look at your culture, so you can foresee any barriers, encourage leadership support and pick your disability champions carefully, and develop a couple of strong key messages and get them out there,” concluded Gail.

People with disability can and do work bringing a range of skills, talents and experiences

Importantly, seminar attendees were also able to hear from employees with lived experience of disability – each of them sharing a unique perspective but united as strong and vocal advocates for employing more people with disability.

Keynote speaker Matthew Levy has achieved success in both the sporting and business worlds – as a Paralympian, charity ambassador, mentor and analyst.

In his seminar address, Matthew shared the importance of having a clear purpose and plan, broken down into achievable components and approached with perseverance, resilience and determination, with the assistance of an inner circle of influence.

“Part of learning is being resilient. Whether at swimming or work, I aim to understand the problem and solution, and drive improvement in myself as well as those around me.”

Gillian Eborn has enjoyed a successful marketing and communications career, and is currently employed by Hays Specialist Recruitment at the Australian Digital Health Agency, where workplace adjustments funded through the Employment Assistance Fund help her manage her vision impairment.

“JobAccess has provided 24-inch monitors for both my work and home work stations, which really helps reduce the strain of working on a computer all day. The Agency's normal practices recommend a 2-3 min break every 25 minutes, which also helps with reducing strain.

Gillian also shared this powerful insight about employees with disability. “Don’t underestimate us on the contribution we can make. You'll find we are more ‘ability’ than ‘dis’. We also sometimes have superpowers as a result of our disability or having to adapt to it. For instance, my vision impairment actually makes me a better proof-reader than most sighted colleagues.’’

Finally, William Drake, one of the Analysts employed as part of Seeing Machines’ Project Embrace also had this simple piece of advice for organisations considering employing people with disability – “That we can do the job and you should hire more of us.’’

Here at JobAccess, we couldn’t agree more!

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1 Australian Safety and Compensation Council, 2007. Are People with Disability at Risk at Work? A Review of the Evidence, ASSC, Canberra, Du Paul University 2007

2,4 Graffam J, Shinkfield A, Smith K and Polzin, U 2002, Employer benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, vol. 17, no. 4, p. 251-263.

3 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC).


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