One of the true markers of an inclusive society is economic participation, especially through contribution in the workforce. In Australia, while 83% of people without a disability participate in the workforce, the same is not true for those with a disability. Far from being affirmed as valuable contributors to the workforce and the economy, Australians with a disability have long been seen as passive receivers of financial support and services.
Recent decades has seen positive workforce change for people with a disability, with understanding and expectations rising and opportunities for inclusive education and skills development becoming available. Yet there remains an unavoidable gap between the workforce participation of Australians with a disability and the general population.
Peter is one of the 54% of Australians with a disability participating in the workforce. He works in supported employment, assisting in an aged care home helping staff with recreational activities such as bingo or soft exercise classes. Peter works for 8 hours a week across 2 days, and earns just over $50, less than $10 per hour.
In 2009, the Australian Government’s Shut Out Report suggested that many people have low expectations of people with a disability within the workforce, believing that they cannot learn, or are not able to do anything useful. This attitude leads to people being excluded from tasks that they may have the skill to perform.
this year, after 6 years in the same job, Peter decided he wanted to find other work. He doesn’t feel challenged any more, isn’t learning new skills and isn’t progressing. Because Peter gets a disability support pension and was assisted in gaining employment, current process means that he can’t simply be transferred to a new job, he has to quit his current job, be unemployed for 6 weeks and can then reapply for a new job. For Peter, this does not just mean loss of income, it means a loss of social inclusion, and a potential loss of the skills that he has learnt.
Currently, there is no incentive for businesses to employ a person with a disability, and there is no incentive to make work meaningful for them. These barriers, together with processes that do not support movement to new workplaces, means that there is exclusion and separation occurring, preventing people from realising their individual capabilities.
As highlighted in ‘Include Me!‘ Inclusion Melbourne’s guide to creating volunteer and employment opportunities, an increasing number of people with a disability are looking at ways to meaningfully participate in their local community.
People with a disability are a tremendous resource yet this is often untapped due to unhelpful stereotypes, a lack of knowledge about their presence in local communities or ineffective communication about their desire to be involved.