Creating an inclusive community for people living with disability

Workplaces are expected to follow the relevant legal and policy framework in place that sets out the rights of people with disabilities, in line with the human rights framework. These frameworks protect people with disabilities right to work, the right to just and favourable conditions of work, the right to equal opportunities for promotion in the workplace and the right to enjoy all other rights without discrimination.

Despite these laws and frameworks that are in place, the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability presented to the Australian Government on 29 September 2023 contained 222 recommendations which aim to improve laws, policies and practices across many settings, and contexts in which violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability take place. Numerous policy issues are to be addressed by governments, institutions, and the community as a whole.

Employment is one area where people with disability face considerable challenges and barriers and has been highlighted in the Royal Commission’s Final Report. The opportunity for a person living with a disability to work, earn a living and participate as an economic citizen is crucial to creating an inclusive Australia. This opportunity creates the basis for a person’s ability to access services, support themselves and their family, realise life aspirations and achieve financial security. Employment can give people a sense of purpose, personal development, foster social connection and community, and create opportunities.

Disability unemployment has floated around 10 percent over the last 3 decades. People who live with a disability are twice as likely to be unemployed.

There are systemic barriers and structural issues that prevent people living with disability to finding work compared with people who do not have a disability. These barriers include:

  • Difficulty finding work
  • Dissatisfaction with employment opportunities
  • Discrimination
  • Equal pay
  • Employment restrictions
  • Beliefs, stigmas, behaviours towards people with disability
  • Ableism
  • Systemic barriers

Systemic barriers

Systemic barriers are a significant factor in obtaining meaningful employment for people living with disability and the Royal Commissioner’s have categorised these barriers in the Final Report:

Physical and Environmental barriers

A common barrier to employment that people with disabilities experience is physically inaccessible workplaces or buildings, working environments that are unsuitable for people with psychological, cognitive and/or episodic disability, or inadequate communication methods that don’t consider their individual needs. These physical barriers can prevent people with a disability from seeking and staying in employment. Access is a fundamental requirement for participation and inclusion in the workplace.

Organisational barriers

Organisational barriers relate to the way in which a workplace functions which includes inaccessible systems and recruitment processes, lack of appropriate support services and refusal to adjust. These barriers are faced by people with a disability when they are preparing to enter the workforce, applying for jobs and during employment. Job advertisements that exclude people with a disability on no justifiable means, which creates a barrier for people to participate and be included in the workforce, are taking place.

Structural barriers

Policies, systems, programs and legislation are examples of structures that can create barriers to employment for people with disabilities. People with a disability have had negative experiences when engaging with some Disability Employment Services program, where participants were placed in jobs that did not match their skills, interest or abilities, whilst resulting in poor client outcomes and short term employment. This barrier results in people with a disability not being able to participate or be supported in the workplace.

Attitudinal barriers

People with disabilities experience low expectations about what they can do and achieve in a workplace due to discriminatory beliefs about, stigmas against and behaviours towards people with a disability.     These attitudinal barriers make it difficult for people with a disability to participate in the workplace. An inclusive Australia is one where people with a disability know that they belong and are respected, valued and able to contribute.

The Royal Commission has highlighted the need for a co-ordinated strategy involving all levels of government and non-government organisations about attitudinal change. The Commissioner’s stated that the “responsibility of the reforms is shared by the entire Australian community”. Transformational reforms cannot occur without fundamental changes in community attitude towards people with disability.

Australian Network on Disability survey

The Australian Network on Disability conducted a survey in 2022 to obtain data about the view of organisations on hiring people with disability which focused on: workplace adjustments, employment targets, the challenges of employing people with disability, retention and promotion of people with disability, and explored how accessible and inclusive their organisations are.

355 of the network’s 400-strong membership comprising large corporations, major university and government departments responded. The survey found:

  • 68 percent of organisations do not have targets for the employment of people with disability; 60 percent of public sector respondents, and 14 percent in the private and not-for-profit sectors have targets.
  • 35 percent of organisations had accessed government funding (JobAccess and the Employer Assistance Fund) to access supports for workplace change to support people living with disability due to lack of awareness, limited structures or process in the organisation, not having a need, or deciding to fund adjustments themselves.
  • The top 3 challenges in attracting skilled candidates with disability included mainstream processes, recruitment practices and the lack of resources to make attracting disability candidates a dedicated focus.

All survey respondents shared the view that they want to get better at employing, including and catering to people with disability – but they “just don’t know how to do it.”

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons for Disabilities 2006 includes an obligation to raise awareness and combat negative attitudes towards disability, which it suggests can occur through:

  • public awareness campaigns
  • by fostering an attitude of respect of rights of people with disability
  • participation and positive portrayal of people with disability in the media, and
  • promoting awareness-training programs about the rights of people with disability.

Research undertaken by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales ‘Changing community attitudes to improve inclusion of people with disability’ referenced in the Final Report identified approaches to change attitudes, behaviours and outcomes to ultimately achieve social inclusion of people with disability. These approaches included directly targeting attitude change and seeking to change behaviour, with attitude change as a secondary outcome.

The research suggests that the most important interventions are those that create visibility of people with a disability and contact between people without a disability to challenge the expectations, feelings and beliefs of where people with a disability belong.

Creating effective attitude and behaviour change campaigns includes the active presence of diverse groups across all life domains. Key factors in change campaigns for disability include:

  1. Leadership representation from diverse groups in organisations and governments to demonstrate their equal contribution.
  2. Targeting multiple levels and multiple types of policy and intervention in a holistic approach to system change.
  3. Long-term approaches with adequate resourcing.
  4. Measuring, monitoring and research inform decision-making and accountability.
  5. Encouraging the participating and positive portrayal of people with disability in the media.
  6. Promoting awareness-training programmes about the rights of people with disability.

The Australian Government has completed the first stage of its consultation (28 November 2023 to 19 January 2024) of its Disability Royal Commission Response which has seen establishment of a Commonwealth Disability Royal Commission Taskforce and the government has asked for organisations, groups and individuals to share which Disability Royal Commission recommendations are important to them and why.

Employment reforms on how to address the systemic workplace barriers that prevent people living with disability with their right to work may achieve increased importance on the agenda in the future.

In a post Royal Commission era, employers may be presented with a unique opportunity and challenge. They are in a unique position to play a key role and shift the pendulum towards a more inclusive society where people with disability are not viewed as a problem to be fixed, managed or hidden away.

The Final Report calls for change. It’s time to hit the ‘reset’ button on how we behave, engage with and include people living with disability across Australia.

Connect with us

Phillips Group can design campaigns to raise awareness, understanding and inspire behavioural and attitudinal change. We work together with clients to develop campaigns tailored to your goals. We adopt multi-channel and integrated touchpoints and user testing methods and approaches. We have extensive experience in research and reviews with clients operating in politically sensitive and complex health and social service ecosystems and environments involving a diverse range of stakeholders. We understand the value of lived experience and involving consumers in the design, monitoring and evaluation of programs and services.

For more information, please contact Rebecca Williams, Group Executive Director Health and Care.