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For people with a disability, organisations need to be more than positive

This Saturday marks the International Day of People with Disability, and in anticipation of the occasion the Australian Network on Disability has released their 2nd annual Disability Confidence Survey report.

The report’s major finding is that while attitudes are improving, with more companies placing increased importance on their customers and job applicants with a disability, this hasn’t necessarily made much of a practical difference.

The report’s authors have concluded a lot of companies are being positive about employing people with a disability but not proactive, and because of that they’re missing out. Of the businesses that have employees with a disability, 90 per cent reported benefits such as increased staff morale and customer loyalty. So what’s the root cause for the lack of action?

According to Rania Saab, a family law solicitor with Legal Aid NSW and a person with a disability, the key is communication. “It is not enough to think or say: ‘We want to include people with disability.’  That desire to include must be communicated throughout the whole organisation so that junior staff through to senior management are aware that this is an important mission of the organisation.”

This supports some of the survey’s other findings. When asked about their reason for not employing staff with disability, 35 per cent of respondents said they weren’t sure why that was, and when asked about their reason for not taking action towards accommodating customers with disability, 58 per cent responded they hadn’t received specific requests.

“Businesses are reacting to requests from their customers,” explains Maryanne Diamond GM at the National Disability Insurance Agency, “rather than implementing accessibility from the start.” Companies have signalled a willingness to change, with  61 per cent saying they were likely to make doing business with them easier for customers with disability within the next year.

All of which is a good thing for their customers, and their own business. “I will not be loyal or give my patronage to an organisation that discriminates against me by failing to provide me with the assistance (as a customer) or adjustments (as an employee) that I need,” says Saab.

It’s a view shared by Amanda Lawrie-Jones, a MetroAccess project officer for the city of Port Phillip.

“As a customer, I tend to stick to places I know I am going to get good service and can access. If I have to go somewhere new, I will phone in advance to check their accessibility, but that doesn’t always work out.” And when it doesn’t work out the results can be frustrating. She’s visited several restaurants with a flat entry, which is great for her wheelchair, only to find a step into their split-level dining area that she’s unable to access.

Not hiring people with a disability: Ignorance or discrimination?

It’s not that companies don’t have the resources to hire people with disability, but it might be they lack awareness and the appropriate knowledge. Only 3 per cent of respondents said the cost of workplace adjustment was a reason for not employing staff with disability. Contrast that with the 55 per cent of people who said their type of work wasn’t suitable for people with disability, or that no such candidates had applied for a job.

Those responses reflect a bit of ignorance and discrimination says the  CEO of the Australian Network on Disability, Suzanne Colbert.“It’s both. When it comes to disability it’s often our systems that get in the way. For instance, in many cases E-recruitment prevents people with disability from accessing jobs because the website accessibility they need hasn’t been put in place.”

Ignorance, explains Colbert, shows up on a different level. “Take a basic issue like a gap in a resume. Say you’ve had a surgery that’s prevented you from working for a year or six months, well, you could be a great candidate but the system has said that’s a problem.”

In contrast to the predominant narrative of technology providing ever more options, the automation process can stand in the way of people with disability. Colbert offers the example of someone trying to get a job in coding. They apply and are taken through the standard process, one that doesn’t take into account their circumstances. “A candidate who is on the spectrum may have to undertake a digital interview, which they just aren’t going to do well in, and therefore they might lose out on the job despite being an excellent coder.”

A best practice organisation, Colbert says, will ask candidates if they happen to have a disability and if the person does, they will be shepherded through the process in a way that takes that fact into account.

The challenges for including people with disability are there but they aren’t insurmountable. The survey report highlights that awareness and a desire to do better seem to be on the rise. It’s a matter for everyone, from the CEO and HR managers to society in general, to make inclusivity a priority.

For more information about doing business with people with disability, as well as the legal obligations your company might have, go to AHRI’s resource on inclusion and diversity.

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