Opinion: Employment opportunities key to building inclusive, accessible future for people with disability
After nearly two years of weathering COVID-19, it is fitting that this year’s International Day of People with Disability is asking us all to think about what comes next.
In full, the theme is "Leadership and participation of person with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world."
If we are to meet this goal, then supporting people with disability to find and maintain meaningful employment must surely be at the top of the list.
The physical and mental health benefits of meaningful employment are undisputed. It affords people a sense of community and a sense of inclusion, it provides structure and purpose and it paves the way to financial security and independence.
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For many, employment enables participation — and ultimately, leadership — within their community.
Yet we know that people with disability are less likely to participate in the labour workforce, and when they do, they are more likely to experience difficulties in securing work.
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The most recent statistics we have indicate that — in pre-COVD-19 times — the unemployment rate among people with disability is twice that of those without disability.
It’s a stark inequality, and one that continues to confound and frustrate those of us who work within disability employment services.
We know the job seekers we work with have much to offer. We have research that demonstrates that they are safer, more reliable and — when placed in the right role — equally productive.
When given the opportunity to work, our job seekers seize it.
Yet even at a time when an unprecedented skills shortage is threatening business and industries across the State, many employers are still debating the value of hiring a person with disability.
We should pause then, to consider that if people with disability are being overlooked amid a skills shortage — what opportunities will they have to secure employment when our borders finally open?
What happens to these job seekers when workers from interstate are again allowed work here? What happens to our job seekers with serious health conditions in the event of an outbreak of the much-feared Delta strain of COVID-19?
Will they be afforded the same opportunities to work, participate and lead?
If we are to create an inclusive, accessible and sustainable future for people with disability, we need more employers - ideally all employers - to look past the tired myths and actively recruit job seekers with disability.
Those that do will surely reap the benefits of a productive, adaptable and successful business.
Lynne Harwood is the CEO of disability employment agency Forrest Personnel.
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