ADVICE: Employing people with a disability is not about hitting diversity targets

The below is a guest post from Natasha Price and Adam Sheppard, Founders of InvincAble A.I.D.E (Accessibility, Inclusion, Diversity & Education).

Inclusion in the workplace has come a long way in the last few years, however, still has a long way to go. People with disability want to be contributing members of society in the exact same way as their non-disabled counterparts so it is imperative that we see sizeable and continuing improvements in this area. Whilst we understand this may be the only option for some, gone are the days when all people with disabilities were encouraged to sit around at home living off government benefits, without the means to chase their dreams and aspirations.

Employing people with a disability has a 2-fold effect. Not only does it help people with a disability find gainful employment, offering financial freedom and independence, but by making a business more accessible and inclusive, organisations would also be widening their customer base to the one in five people in the community with a disability.

Huge underemployment of people with disabilities (52.8% employed, compared to 82.5% of the general population) often pushes them onto unemployment benefits or setting up their own businesses. People with disabilities are 40% more likely to be self employed and are, in fact, three times more likely to remain in business than their non disabled peers. This is often due to the lack of opportunities in the workforce offered to people with disability, plus the lack of awareness and understanding which employers may have of the benefits of employing those living with disability.

People with disabilities have often been pigeonholed into certain types of employment, such as call centre work or the fast food industry, instead of being encouraged to follow their passions simply because of accessibility and inclusion issues within the workplace, and a general lack of understanding from wider society. Unconscious bias is real, and it is still alive and well in society today, however, this is rarely the fault of the individual. Unconscious bias comes from years of conditioning and childhood influences which may have been reinforced throughout life.

If an individual has had very little or no contact with a person with a disability, they will come with a preconceived notion of what that person might look like, act like or what that person would have the ability to achieve. These preconceived ideas or biases can be strengthened by the bombardment of negative connotations within the media and arts.

Please understand that employing people with a disability is not about hitting diversity targets but rather the benefits that such inclusion would bring to an organisation. Don’t take on a person with a disability purely because they are disabled but take them on because they could posess multiple transferable skills, equal to or better than an able-bodied employee.

Let’s not forget, if you have an employee with a disability and your business has become more accessible and inclusive as a consequence of this, as an organisation, you will be able to reach a wider demographic of customers as disabled individuals will now be able to access your products and services where they potentially may not have been able to before.

The other obvious benefits of inclusive workplaces could be:

  • Allowing individuals to showcase their skills and ability, and utilise experience they may already possess, whilst demonstrating to the wider community that disability does not equate to inability.
  • It allows customers and other staff members to have a greater connection with a more diverse range of individuals within their community and, therefore, a greater experience of the wider world.

In some of the cases where a business is not accessible the smallest of changes can often make the most significant difference. For example, changing the layout of a store so that items are easier to reach for a person of short stature or a wheelchair user, more intuitive to find for a person with visual impairment, or just being aware of the space within store so that mobility device users can easily navigate around it.

Employing a person with a disability, or welcoming them into your business as a customer, may seem like a daunting prospect, however, there are plenty of advisory and support services available which can help an organisation get started in this process. It is important to point out that consulting with those who have lived experience, not purely academic knowledge, can be the difference between a true understanding of things that may be introduced which can make a real and tangible difference to people with disabilities, and possibly only covering the regulatory side of things and, sadly, government code is often not in depth enough, nor is it best practice. This can still exclude many.

About the experts

Natasha Price is an elite wheelchair athlete, entrepreneur, speaker, blogger, published author, Queensland State Champion, international marathon winner and Gold Coast Women of the Year finalist from the Gold Coast, Australia. She is the founder of InvincAble, a products based business that exists to empower those living with disability and long term health conditions to live fun, fulfilling and active lives.

Adam Sheppard is an athletics coach, personal trainer, retired para athlete, former Australian record holder, speaker and entrepreneur. He was born and bred in the Sunshine State and lives with his wife of ten years, Christy, and their three year old son, Fletcher.

Together, Natasha and Adam founded InvincAble’s sister organisation, InvincAble A.I.D.E (Accessibility, Inclusion, Diversity & Education), where this unstoppable team utilises their decades of lived and work experience in the field of disability to empower, inspire and create the kind of change that will have a meaningful impact on diversity and inclusion worldwide.

Image description: On the left, Adam is sitting in a wheelchair looking to the Natasha to his side. He wears a grey polo shirt and is smiling. On the right, Natasha is sitting in a wheelchair in a white polo shirt and grey pants. In the background is a pond surrounded by greenery and trees.