Australian of the Year and tennis champion Dylan Alcott has called on employers to hire more people with disabilities in a passionate speech at the Jobs and Skills Summit.
- The Government's Jobs and Skills Summit is trying to boost workforce participation
- Wheelchair tennis champion Dylan Alcott told the summit that people with disabilities should not be overlooked
- Disability advocates are calling for programs designed to get people with disabilities into the right jobs
The summit was convened to address the Australia's dire shortage of workers.
Mr Alcott told the delegation we've "dropped the ball" when it comes to workforce participation.
"Nearly 4.5 million people in this country have some form of physical or non-physical disability, visible or invisible, and only 54 per cent of them are enrolled in the workforce," he said.
There's no reason people with disabilities should be overlooked, he added.
"It's just bloody good business because people with disability are 90 per cent more likely to be equal to or more productive than able-bodied people, we have higher retention rates, (and) lower absenteeism."
Mr Alcott said workplaces saw a 61 per cent increase in morale when people with disabilities were hired, but not enough companies appreciated the benefits.
"The unemployment rate of people with a disability is more than double, almost triple that of able-bodied people," he said.
Disabled people should also be offered pathways to becoming leaders, he urged.
"Some people want a job, for sure, but do you know what else some people want? They want a career. They want a leadership position.
"I don't want to scare you, but we want your seats," he said.
'I just want them to see me as me'
Brittany Lloyd has seen how difficult it can be to find a job when you have a disability.
"It's very frustrating, like the times where you just like cry in your room, like, 'Oh, what am I doing wrong?'" she said.
Ms Lloyd said she struggled to find a job when she told prospective employers she has Asperger's syndrome.
"You mention the word Asperger's or autism, everyone's eyes seem to like, die down a bit.
"I don't want people to see me as my diagnosis, I just want them to see me as me," she said.
Ms Lloyd is now thriving after being hired as a project assistant with the NSW Government.
"They see me as Brittany … the person who can help me with all the things I have on my plate, and make it so much easier for my workload."
Increasing free TAFE places, skilled migration, and getting mothers back into work with cheaper childcare were all discussed on the jobs summit's main stage on Thursday.
Friday saw the focus shift to boosting worker numbers and encouraging more participation.
Chris Chippendale from Life Without Barriers told the AM program there needs to be an attitude shift towards disability and work.
"Unfortunately, disability is often constructed generally in the community as a deficit and not as an attribute, if you like, or just part of someone's life," he said.
Policies to increase workforce participation are on the agenda at the jobs summit, but Mr Chippendale said clarity is key.
"Often those programs are confusing, they operate in silos, and therefore, the government and the people at the jobs summit need to really make sure that those programs are properly designed, working well, coordinated," he said.
"We've got an untapped potential of really good employees."