One in five New Zealanders has a disability. Like other New Zealanders, their skills, experience and educational qualifications are widely varied, but they tend to be an under-utilised talent pool. This points to a huge opportunity for workplaces, both in terms of tapping into disabled people's skills and talents in a skills-short employment market, and more effectively providing products and services to disabled people.
Abilities and skills
Disabled people bring many positive skills and qualities to the workplace. In EEO Trust research conducted in 2005, disabled people rated themselves highly on:
They also said they were:
What research has found
Respondents to the EEO Trust survey had a higher than average educational level - 48% had a degree and almost half of these were at postgraduate level, and 22% had trade or other vocational qualifications. Respondents were mainly in professional or managerial roles, with clerical, service or sales roles next most common.
Australian research (Graffam, J., Smith, K., Shinkfield, A. and Polzin, U., 2002) has found that:
In American research (J. Levy, D. Jessop, A. Rimmerman and P. Levy, 1992), employers who had hired disabled people in the past said they were predisposed to hiring them again, indicating that disabled people are good employees.
The reality in the workforce
Despite their positive qualities and work records, disabled people are under-represented in the workforce. Statistics NZ data (2002) shows that 44% of disabled adults living in households (i.e. not in residential facilities) are in the labour force compared with 74% of people without disabilities, and disabled people aged between 25-44 years have the highest unemployment rate (64%) of any group. Disabled people are also often working in poorly paid, low-status jobs.
Employing disabled people makes good business sense.
Benefits to workplaces include:
To be competitive and effective, workplaces need to ensure they recruit the best person for the job and then retain and develop them. If people are excluded from the job market for reasons that do not relate to their ability to do the job, workplaces will inevitably miss out on skills, talent and energy.
Learning to respond creatively to life's challenges means many disabled people develop good problem-solving skills, flexible and innovative ways of approaching an issue, as well as determination and focus.
Employing disabled people can open up new opportunities and improve market share. Good customer service requires people to think creatively about the needs of all their customers. Those with direct experience of living with a disability provide an invaluable perspective. This could be in the front line as customer service staff, signalling to clients that disabled people are welcome and that their needs will be met.
Case studies of inclusive workplaces
In the UK, DIY store B&Q proactively recruited older and disabled people. "We want disabled people to be able to shop with confidence in our stores, secure in the knowledge that they will be able to access our goods and services easily, find solutions to meet their needs and be treated with respect by our store staff," said Kay Allen, Equal Opportunities and Diversity Manager, B&Q, July 2000.
The result for B&Q included:
In Australia, Westpac is making a major commitment to attracting disabled staff and providing better service to disabled customers. The initiatives for employees include:
In 2005, Westpac said these initiatives were enhancing its employment brand and its organisational image.
All workers benefit from diversity in the workplace and the stimulation and interest a range of experiences and approaches brings. This, in addition to the sense of fairness that comes from seeing good employment practice in action, improves workplace morale and productivity. See how this works for Kings Plant Barn in Auckland.
Good employment practice in relation to disabled people is part of ethical business practice. It signals to the one in five New Zealanders who have a disability and their friends and family that your organisation is committed to equity. Addressing the issues around disability and work gives organisations the opportunity to brand themselves as good corporate citizens.
Under the Employment Relations Act and the Human Rights Act it is unlawful to discriminate in employment (including during recruitment) on a number of grounds including disability. Generally speaking, employers cannot treat a person differently because of their impairment or health condition if they can reasonably make accommodations to enable the person to do the job effectively and safely.