"We need to change the language from one focussed on what people with disabilities can't do, to what they can do" said Lucy Macali, National Disability Recruitment Coordinator at a recent seminar hosted by Lander & Rogers and the Equal Employment Opportunity Network.

Macali joined a panel of three, including Samantha French, People with Disability Australia, and Julia Wanhill, Diversity & Inclusion, IBM to discuss the difficulties faced by people with disabilities in gaining and remaining in employment. The panel discussed the 'business case' for employing people with disabilities and the ways employers can break down existing barriers within their organisations.

One of the main fears employers have is the cost of employing people with disabilities and the extent of the 'reasonable adjustments' required. "We need to stop labelling people with a disability as if their 'adjustments' are different to everyone else" said Macali. A working parent who needs to leave work early to tend to a sick child should be treated no differently to an employee with a disability. "Flexible workplace polices should be universal" said Macali.

Leaders in this space include IBM who have established an "Employee Network Group" specifically for people with disabilities and other initiatives like their "Buddy Programme." Other organisations leading the way include Telstra who have launched a Personalisation@Work initiative, focused on personalising each employee's experience at work, regardless of their circumstances.

It's not hard to see the benefits of this approach. Workplace Relations & Safety Partner Patrizia Mercuri said "A policy that focuses on the individual differences of its employees and ensures that its workplace can cater to those needs, will be a better working environment for all employees whether they have a disability or not." Julia Wanhill agreed and spoke about the benefits she had experienced at IBM, including that "employees felt more engaged and proud to be a part of IBM."

There are a number of things that employers can do to eliminate barriers to employment and encourage candidates with a disability to apply, including:

  • Update your organisations website so that it is disability friendly
  • Ensure there is a disability contact person on the website
  • Let candidates know that disclosure is voluntary and that if they choose to disclose their disability, that information will not go to their manager unless they choose
  • Ensure that your organisation's disability and diversity policy is covered in your induction process
  • Provide training to staff to overcome 'unconscious bias'
  • Provide internships to candidates
  • Include a link to www.jobaccess.gov.au on your company intranet. This is a one-stop-shop on disability and employment.

Asked what one of the best things employers could do to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities, Samantha French said "Internships are a great way for employers to learn more about the business benefits of employing people with disability as well as providing opportunity to identify and address any unintended barriers in recruitment and employment practices. It also gives candidates an opportunity to show their skills and their presence can change perceptions and raise awareness of unconscious bias in the workplace."

About EEON

The Equal Employment Opportunity Network (EEON) was formed in 1988 to provide ongoing support to private sector Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) practitioners and employers in Victoria. EEON provides a platform for members to learn and exchange information about current Diversity, Inclusion and EEO issues, to network and to showcase examples of best practice in Diversity and Inclusion.