Spotlight On: Employing people with disability

Spotlight On: Employing people with disability

Employing people with disability is good for business and good for the community. Many Australian employers – 79 per cent according to research – are open to hiring people with disability, but far fewer are taking affirmative steps towards actually doing so. To access the broad range of talent that people with disability represent, employers aren’t in it alone.

According to Community Solutions, an employment support agency operating in regional Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, there are many social and economic benefits when it comes to hiring people with disabilities.

Firstly, they are eager to work and become productive team members within their workplace. They are reliable; taking fewer days off and stay in jobs longer than other employees. Financially, the recruitment costs are lower and due to the social benefits they bring to a business, there’s less employee turnover, which leads to reduced recruitment and retraining costs.

“People with disabilities build strong connections between team members and customers which is good for business. They often boost the team’s morale and help create diversity amongst the workplace,” says a Community Solutions spokesperson.

“In fact, according to the Australian Network on Disability, by having a diverse workplace, your employees are more likely to stay with the business for longer.”

To see inclusivity of people with disability in the hospitality workplace, there is no better example than P & G Bakery Café, Geelong Botanical Gardens Tea House and Bellarine Bakery – all businesses owned by Paul Field; a pioneer in the disability employment space.

Back in 2015 after purchasing the Tea House, Paul made the decision to employ his sister Christy, who has Down syndrome, to see how the activity and change of scenery would impact her.

“She functions okay, but she didn’t really understand the boundaries between work and normal life,” Pauls says.

“Dad and I had a talk and thought maybe it would be a good idea to get her out of the house and doing something a few hours a week just to see what happened.”

Spotlight On: Employing people with disability  

Around the same time, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) was kicking off in Geelong with offices just down the road from Paul’s café, and this led to a twist of fate that saw Paul’s attempt to help his sister turn into a fully-fledged disability employment and training program, operating as an approved NDIA provider.

“A few of the senior managers came in and saw what I was trying to do with Christy and discussed with us whether we thought it would work on a bigger scale, being something new and innovative and playing in the space the NDIA wanted to play in to build capacity and get people into supported employment,” Paul says.

“Now we’ve got about 16 clients.”

The three businesses all operate on a similar model, with all staff across all abilities helping and guiding, with individually tailored programs that go in line with it.

“There’s a pretty stringent set of things that we look at when we’re employing people, from their personality type right through to whether they have experience with people with disabilities, whether they’re empathetic – there’s quite a few different things we put into our selection criteria,” Paul says.

“Once we have those people, we provide them with training on how to work with the people with disabilities, how to understand them, how to get the best out of them, how to be firm but fair about things.”

Paul says the ultimate reward he gets from running the program, which he admits is not easy, is seeing his employees grow and develop new skills and the sense of pride and achievement that comes with that.

“We look at it two ways,” he explains.

“I suppose the first part is changing the community’s view on how people with disability can have jobs and what they can do.

“For my staff and I it’s all about watching people grow and learn. The first day they come through the door they might be a bit shy and reserved, not much confidence, and then watching them grow and develop and start to achieve goals and then be able to make coffees – that whole sort of stepping stone where you see people grow; our whole team prides on that.”

In terms of business outcomes, Paul says that while patience is an essential attribute for anyone employing people with disability, you can be assured that dedication and work ethic is not lacking.

“They are the most loyal, reliable, hard-working, committed staff members you could ask for – they just love going to work,” he says.

“I’ve got one girl at the moment I’m sending home from work because she’s wanting to come to work and wanting to do it, but she’s got a really bad knee and can’t walk around and can’t do stuff. She wants to work.

“These people are reliable, and what you put into them, you’re going to get much more out of them.”

Peter Farrer has been working with Paul for more than four years now and is a shining example of how well the program is working to help people with disability achieve their goals.

“When I first started with Paul I did not know nothing about slices or cooking at all, and eventually it just came to me – cooking’s good! Cooking slices is good, I really enjoyed it,” Pete says.

“Right at the start I got put in The Advertiser with one of our other bakers and I said in that article that I’d like to do some driving with Paul, like delivery driving in the future and it’s got to that.”

In fact, Pete has gone from assisting Paul on deliveries to now having his drivers licence and delivering to wholesale customers by himself with a van Paul bought specially for him.

“Pete’s been developing in lots of areas through the driving because he has to interact on a different level with the team, and he has to actually perform a really clearly defined role,” Paul says

“He’s doing really well and we’re all very proud.”

Pete’s sense of pride in his achievements is clear in his voice as he explains the impact his newfound independence has had on his day-to-day life.

“I don’t have to rely on anybody to get me up in the morning and drive me to work,” he says.

“I used to have to take cabs because I wasn’t very good at driving at that stage. And I didn’t have enough money to pay for fuel and stuff. Now I’ve got a heap of money – I can pay for my fuel and drive every single day. I love it!”

Brooke Thornhill manages the kitchen at the Tea House, and says one of the most important parts of the job is making sure everyone knows their contributions are valued.

“Whether they’re serving coffees or making the bread or cleaning the dishes, everyone’s equal,” she says.

“It’s so rewarding. Even for our regular customers, they come up and they go, ‘oh Peter we saw you ice the doughnuts this morning and they look fantastic’, and just the joy on everybody’s faces when they get those kinds of compliments… it’s nice.

“That’s why I’m in it, just to see that joy and that realisation that ‘maybe I can do this, I’ve learnt a new skill, it’s exciting and I want to show everybody’.”

Understanding disability

The most important thing employers need to understand is how common disability is, with over four million people in Australia (around one in five) having some form of disability.

Disability can be:

  • Physical – affects a person’s mobility or dexterity
  • Intellectual – affects a person’s abilities to learn
  • Mental Illness – affects a person’s thinking processes
  • Sensory – affects a person’s ability to hear or see
  • Neurological – affects the person’s brain and central nervous system
  • Learning disability
  • Physical disfigurement
  • Immunological – the presence of organisms causing disease in the body

Support and Services Available

The Employment Assistance Fund

The Employment Assistance Fund provides financial assistance for work-related modifications, equipment and services to help people with disability get employment and perform their work as independently and productively as possible.

More information:

Wage Subsidy Scheme

The Wage Subsidy Scheme offers financial assistance of up to $1500 to employers who employ eligible people with disability who are registered with a Disability Employment Services provider.

More information:

Disabled Australian Apprenticeship Wage Support

Disabled Australian Apprentice Wage Support (DAAWS) is an Australian Government incentive payable to an employer who employs an Australian Apprentice who satisfies the disability eligibility criteria in an Australian Apprenticeship.

More information:

Supported Wage System

Supported Wage System is a workplace relations mechanism that allows employers to pay a productivity based wage to eligible people whose work productivity is reduced as a result of disability.

More information:

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO)

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) engages with businesses to identify barriers and provide education and mentoring to enable them to become more inclusive and disability confident.

More information:

Community Solutions

Since 1998, Community Solutions has supported regional Queensland, Victoria and South Australia offering employment support, vocational training and social support.

More information:


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