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The value of disability in the workplace

Brianne Turk

Careers Commentator
Disability can be seen as a disadvantage, but we give you five reasons why employers value team members with disability.

Across Australia, people with disabilities are employed in all industries at all levels. According to a 2016 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2.1 million Australians of working age 15–64 experience disability, and of these, just over one million are employed.

While there is a continued need for improvement in the inclusion of people with disability in the workforce, society’s growing understanding of the capacity and contribution of this population – together with its growth in support services and focus on diversity and inclusion – certainly opens doors in this space. From accountants to fashion designers, CEOs to assembly line staff, people with disability are an integral part of Australia’s thriving workforce.

Why employers want YOU

Like all graduates, people with disability are recruited for their technical skills, academic achievement, potential, interpersonal skills and cultural fit with an organisation.

They’re also highly valued for the insight, unique perspective and life experience that living with a disability provides. Organisations recognise that the more diverse the team, the more innovative and creative the ideas, and so as workplaces become more representative of society, products and services become more appealing to wider populations. Far from simply ticking a box to present a socially conscious image, organisations employ people with disability because quite simply, they’re good for business.

If you’re a student who experiences disability, here are the five reasons why employers are looking for you:

1. Talent pool

When organisations open their recruitment processes to people of all abilities, they open their doors to a wider talent pool. By not placing unnecessary restrictions on candidates they give themselves the greatest opportunity of finding the stellar talent they’re looking for: the perfect mix of knowledge, skills and potential. Organisations seek applications from people with disability because irrespective of disability they’re looking for the best person for the role.  

2. Unique traits

Many disabilities coexist with enhanced skills in a particular area and this is appealing for businesses. Some people with autism, for example, have a heightened interest in and ability to concentrate on, a specific task, problem or topic. Although they may find it challenging to interpret social cues, their visual perception might far excel their peers. This can make them the perfect match for a role, placing them ahead of the competition. Similarly, an individual who is legally blind might possess superior communication skills because they’ve learnt to rely on verbal communication. This is in contrast to facial expressions and body language which can be easily misinterpreted.   

3. Diverse perspectives

Businesses seek people with disability for the diverse perspectives they bring – the more diverse the team, the more creative and competitive the ideas. When businesses design, analyse and carry out services with and for people with disability, outcomes become more accessible for all. That is, as workplaces become more reflective of society, their business reaches a wider market. Your unique experience adds a point of difference that textbooks and degrees simply can’t provide.

4. Reputation

Creating an equal opportunity workplace is an enviable characteristic, particularly when organisations not only make a commitment but also follow through on their intentions. Prioritising equal rights is a powerful statement to make, one that can provide businesses with a competitive edge and can be helpful when being considered for tenders and funding. Employing a diverse workforce and being known for engaging people of all abilities also has the benefit of reflecting well on an organisation’s reputation, creating an appealing workplace and improving employee morale.

“Accenture is an extremely diverse workplace and they have many programs to help promote diversity in the workplace. This was something that although it is a core Accenture value, I was really pleasantly surprised by how much they live up to their diversity claims.”

- Graduate, Accenture

5. It’s cost-effective

To the surprise of many, once individuals with a disability find suitable work that meets their needs, they take fewer sick days, have a lower rate of workplace injury and remain in employment for longer than individuals without a disability. Taking into account the cost of temp staff, rehiring fees and injury compensation, hiring people with disability is a cost-effective choice. The majority of workplace modifications and adjustments can also be reimbursed via the Employment Assistance Fund, meaning that businesses incur very few additional expenses. In addition, staff who work for inclusive organisations seem to be more motivated and productive overall, leading to greater business outcomes.

Regardless of which industry you step into, your presence in the workforce is both needed and sought-after. To learn how to use your disability to positively impact career planning, head over to our article 'Self-awareness – your greatest asset’.