Study shows advantages of hiring workers with disabilities

  • March 21, 2008
  • Bruce Bromley

This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.
PM РMonday, 17 March , 2008  18:42:00
Reporter: Anna Hipsley

MARK COLVIN: People with disabilities are up to three times more likely to be unemployed than the average Australian.

That’s partly due to employers who think disabilities and paid work don’t mix.
But a new US study could help them change their minds.

It’s found that workers with a disability not only do their jobs just as well, they’re far more reliable, and have fewer sickies.

As Anna Hipsley reports, efforts are now underway to replicate the study here.

ANNA HIPSLEY: The study looked at the impact of businesses hiring people with a disability across three sectors: hospitality, health care and retail.

It incorporated people with a whole range of different disabilities, including physical, sensory, psychiatric and intellectual.

It found they had nearly identical job performance ratings to their able bodied colleagues.

BRIGIDA HERNANDEZ: It was remarkable to us how identical they were.

ANNA HIPSLEY: Brigida Hernandez is an Assistant Professor at Chicago’s DePaul University and the principal author of the study.

She says there were also some areas where disabled workers excelled.

BRIGIDA HERNANDEZ: We found that our retail participants had fewer days of unscheduled absences, so these are absences that are not known in advance. We also found that retail and hospitality sector participants with disabilities, stayed on the job longer than those who did not have disabilities. So those were two big benefits that we did find.

ANNA HIPSLEY: So with comparable job performance, a smaller number sickies, and better retention rates, why the reluctance from employers to take on a disabled worker?

Brigida says it has a lot to do with the cost:

BRIGIDA HERNANDEZ: Managers and supervisors think it’s going to cost a lot to accommodate a worker with a disability and what we found was that very few requests were made and on average the cost was $313, which is actually below what is reported in the United States.

ANNA HIPSLEY: That misconception persists here despite the fact our Government offers significant financial assistance to off-set that cost.

Margaret Vickers is an Associate Professor in the School of Management at the University of Western Sydney.

She’s planning to replicate the US study here to help address the widely held belief that disabilities and work don’t mix.

MARGARET VICKERS: It’s certainly the case in Australia; we’ve got a real difficultly. People without disabilities participation in the labour force is about 80 per cent; people with disabilities it’s around about 50 per cent. So we’ve got a significant problem.

And those labour force statistics don’t even show the real picture, the real participation rates for people with disabilities is around 30 per cent if you count all the people that have given up and stopped looking.

ANNA HIPSLEY: Suzanne Colbert is the chief executive of the Australian Employers Network on Disability.

SUZANNE COLBERT: There are 200,000 unfilled vacancies in Australia today and people with disability represent a real opportunity for employers.

ANNA HIPSLEY: She says people with disabilities should be viewed as an untapped pool of labour and a solution to our skills shortages.

SUZANNE COLBERT: Look I think the main roadblock that we have is that it is an entirely invisible agenda in Australia. People in business see people with disability as more related to a charity agenda than business agenda.

Certainly no-one has come out and said that people with disability are valued citizens, we only hear about them spoken often in a negative way.

So I think if government can take a leadership role and make it easier for business to see the business advantages, we can make some progress by systematically working to eliminate those barriers and make it easier for people with disability and make it easier for businesses.

MARK COLVIN: Suzanne Colbert, chief executive of the Australian Employers Network on Disability ending that report by Anna Hipsley.