Debunking the myths that keep women with disabilities out of work

23 Sep 2015

Women with disabilities are often overlooked by business when it comes to employment, when they could be a great asset if given a chance.

Women with Disabilities Australia says that "Working age women with disabilities who are in the labour force are half as likely to find full-time employment (20%) as men with disabilities (42%); twice as likely to be in part-time employment (24%) as men with disabilities (12%); and regardless of full-time or part-time status, are likely to be in lower paid jobs than men with disabilities." This shows clearly that women with disabilities are missing out on the opportunities that employment can provide, adding to their existing poverty levels.

Closing the employment gap for people with disabilities has been modelled to add $43 billion to Australia's GDP over the next decade. The progressive rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is also expected to allow many more people with disabilities to access employment by providing the rights supports, with 370,000 estimated to be joining the workforce by 2050. 

Many businesses wrongly believe that hiring someone with a disability will be costly and that the worker may not be able to do the job. A variety of myths exist about employing someone with a disability that research has shown are false - for example, workers with disabilities have lower absenteeism than other workers, and are employed in a variety of skilled professions.

Disability Employment Services are specialists in finding jobs for people with disabilities. They are funded to assist employers with a range of resources to make workplaces accessible and encourage the hiring of disabled people through government subsidised wages. But Jessica May, the founder of Enabled Employment, decided not to go down this path, instead turning to technology to create a private start-up company after her own experience of finding it hard to get work that was adaptable to her disability.

Having staff who understand accessibility and other disability-related issues can also be a business advantage - in terms of physical access, but also online and social access. One in five Australians have a disability and are consumers that are often ignored. Employees who have lived experience of disability could give their employers a distinct advantage in reaching these potential customers.

A degree of flexibility, such as telework or some workplace adjustments can sometimes make all the difference. The Job Access portal shows a variety of case studies where the Employment Assistance fund has provided equipment and other adjustments to enable people to get and stay in work.

Women with disabilities can bring innovation to the workplace, through their need to adapt existing systems to their needs. At ANZ, Emily, who has a brain injury, describes how the changes she has developed to work with her disability actually helped her whole team.

"The advantages that my disability has brought to the job is that I'm always looking for ways to be faster at things through simplifying tasks. I know that I need minimum distraction in order to do my job properly, so I've worked out ways to cut out all the distractions and I've been able to share those with my team and they've been able to use these tricks I came up with."

But despite these innovations to assist employers, discrimination remains an issue, as does the accessibility of the built environment. In her submission (#32) to the Human Rights Commission 'Willing to work' inquiry, Jane Scott said that she believes she can't get work because of "other people's low expectations and lack of willingness to think creatively to solve problems" as well as buildings and transport that she can't access.

Employers have much to gain by employing women with disabilities - government support and the NDIS are both working to make this an easier process, but business must open the door.

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