Australia has a dismal record in employing the disabled, but businesses are beginning to make fervent efforts to find the right equilibrium.
The Disability Discrimination Act has been in effect for over 20 years; however, Australia is lagging far behind other developed nations when it comes to employing those with a disability, with a ranking of 21 out of 29 OECD countries.
“While Australian employers say that they’re open to recruiting people with a disability, our experience is a little different,” says Suzanne Colbert, CEO of the Australian Network on Disability (AND).
AND works with organisations to advance the inclusion of people with a disability in all aspects of business, including assisting organisations implement disability or accessibility action plans – strategies to change business practices that may discriminate against people with disability.
Case study: National Australia Bank
Back in 1997, the National Australia Bank lodged its first disability action plan with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and released its most recent action plan in 2012. Renamed the Accessibility Action Plan, the purpose of the 2012–14 program was to develop a more inclusive culture at NAB and to improve access for customers and employees who have a disability.
The team behind NAB’s most recent action plan was keen to respond to the needs of staff and the community. Rowan Arndt, head of diversity and inclusion at NAB, led the charge.
NAB drew together senior executives from the business to determine what the plan should encompass, and enlisted an executive sponsor to champion it. “It’s important to have that kind of structure in place,” says Arndt, “so that it’s not driven by HR, OH&S or compliance.”
Arndt then set up a working group made up of representatives from the recruitment, technology, property, IR, policy and diversity teams to deliver the key objectives.
Since the plan’s launch, there has been a greater interest throughout NAB and among the community around the work that’s being done in the disability space.
“One of the things we’ve done is create a language around enhancing awareness,” says Arndt. “These plans have a very real impact on individuals. They affect everybody because it’s not specifically focusing on people with disabilities, it also raises awareness for the manager, line manager and HR staff to say that these are the tools we have to ensure people have an excellent experience at work.”
Case study: Australia Post
Australia Post launched its first accessibility action plan in December 2012. “Our business has had a longstanding commitment to employing people with a disability,” says Sarah Fair, head of diversity and inclusion.
“We wanted to formalise [this] and make more of a public and proactive commitment to improving accessibility for people with a disability and their carers.”
Within six months, a working party led by the diversity inclusion function of Australia Post and, made up of representatives of the three core stakeholder groups, delivered the plan. It aims to create greater disability confidence across the business by creating a more inclusive culture, offer more accessible products and services to customers, and establish formal relationships with disability-related organisations to support the building of more inclusive communities.
Fair says that the plan could not have been delivered successfully without internal buy-in. “If the organisation genuinely doesn’t want to improve accessibility or enhance the quality of life of people with disability, then it just becomes lip service.”
Fair says the benefits of implementing an action plan are threefold. “We’re going to have greater customer satisfaction and loyalty. Australia Post has a stronger value proposition to the workforce so we can attract and retain more talented people, and we have a more inclusive culture.”
Case study: Commonwealth Bank
When the Commonwealth Bank launched its first Disability Action Plan in 2004, it was heavily customer-focused, but since 2010 the programs have been reviewed to create equal access for customers and employees.
“Reviewing the action plan gave us an opportunity to do more to support our current employees who have a disability. It also allowed us to attract and encourage people with a disability to look at our organisation as a place where they’d like to have a career,” says Donna Purcell, group diversity support manager.
In the development of its most recent plan, delivered in December 2012, CBA worked closely with customers with a range of disabilities to ensure their needs were considered.
Internally, as well as setting up the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator as one of its preferred recruitment providers, CBA has developed support resources for staff on managing disability in the workplace.
She says that the biggest advantage of CBA’s action plan so far is awareness across the business. “So many more of our people are now aware of what disability means. Rather than focusing on what people can’t do, we’re changing that perception and focusing on the fact that people with disability can do many things.”