Ausnew Home Care | Why hasn't the disability unemployment rate improved in 30 years?

Why hasn't the disability unemployment rate improved in 30 years?

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This year, I turned 30 – and one statistic has been bugging me all year.

Did you know that people who live with disability are twice as likely to be unemployed, compared to those without disability?

But that's not all.

The unemployment rate for people with disability has barely improved in my lifetime — that's three decades.

I wanted to find out why.

So, when I was offered a chance to work at The Drum for a week, I wanted to use that time to talk to people with disability about how they found work.

What were the challenges they faced, and what we can learn from their experiences?

Sophie says she was put in the 'too hard basket'

Sophie is a 25-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who lives in Sydney.

Elly Desmarchelier interviewing Sophie for a TV story
During her week at The Drum, Elly got to live out her dream of being a journalist. Here she is interviewing Sophie.(Supplied)

She recently started a new job as a policy officer for a disability organisation.

"It's very exciting," she says, "I've always been passionate about the disability sector."

The new job has also given her the chance to live independently and has renewed her sense of purpose.

But it took five months of job-hunting to land the role — despite having an Inclusive Education degree, a Community Services diploma, and work experience in the sector.

"I found that people were putting me in the 'too hard basket' because I required additional adjustments," she says.

"It was extremely frustrating, and it created self-doubt as to whether I am good enough to do the job."

She had to constantly remind herself that yes, she was good enough.

"I think discrimination was definitely a factor and I think that has definitely played on my confidence over the years," Sophie says.

"It has gotten me down at times."

Sophie isn't alone.

Sophie working on her laptop
Sophie has experienced disability discrimination in the workplace.(ABC News: Clancy Weatherald)

Almost one in five young people with disability aged 15-24 years have experienced discrimination, and in around half of those instances the source of discrimination is an employer.

And workplace discrimination has been found to directly impact the workforce participation of people with disability.

According to ABS data, 45 per cent of people who experienced disability discrimination from an employer or work colleague avoided work.

Ben tells employers not to be afraid of the unknown

Ben is 37 years old, also a Sydneysider, and is a person with an intellectual disability.

After several years looking for work, Ben found a perfect job for him at a disability advocacy organisation.(Supplied)

He spent years unemployed and looking for work.

"It would be hard for me to get interviews, I would get a lot of rejection email, and it was really hard for me to get a job," Ben says.

Now he works with a disability advocacy organisation and has built a career around raising awareness of the rights of people with intellectual disability in the workplace.

"I think a lot of businesses out there are afraid to employ someone with an intellectual disability because of the unknowns," he explains.

What would he say to a business afraid of those unknowns?

"I would say, give us a chance."

Where to from here?

Disability employment is the responsibility of Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth.

"I am very much looking at different ways that we can address this, and I think business is part of the solution here," she says.

"Businesses need to understand that people with disability is an opportunity – and not a challenge – when you've got 88 per cent of people living with disability not requiring any workplace modifications and those that do are relatively minor."

If a person with disability does require adjustments, government schemes like JobAccess can subsidise disability-related modifications in a workplace. 

Elly Desmarchelier sitting with The Drum team in the control room
It'll take a whole of community effort to shift the dial on disability employment, says Elly.(Supplied)

Disability advocate and writer El Gibbs has also experienced workplace discrimination and agrees that employers need to be part of the solution for improving workforce participation for people with disability.

"I've been refused my adjustments — and not in the past either, even in the last few years," Gibbs told The Drum.

She also believes that in order to reduce disability unemployment, we need to remove structural barriers to work for people with disability – and she has a long list of structural issues that need to be fixed.

"If you are assessed by Centrelink through some archaic system that you can't work more than eight hours a week, you can't get in the door of the disability employment services — of the services meant to get you a job," she says.

"If you start working, you not only lose your income support payment, but lose your essential access to affordable medical care, and also some disability services."

"If you get supports in your NDIS plan to go to work and do your job, the NDIS can then say they don't need to give you the supports anymore because you have a job — and you might lose your job."

Additionally, Gibbs wants to see more disability organisations hiring more people with disability.

"I'm coming down on the side of targets and quotas, getting serious about making people employ us when they make their money out of us," she says.

"We talk about it often as though we're the problem — us as disabled people with wonky bodies and brains, we're the problem — but it is the structural issues."


Source: ABC

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