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Jobs and growth for whom?

27 June 2016

We’re now at the sharp end of the 2016 federal election campaign and the mantra of Jobs and Growth has featured first and foremost – but why don’t we hear more about job creation for people with disability?  Sure, Federal Labor announced their “Jobs Plan for People with Disability” three weeks ago, but it’s not likely to be a topic you’ll hear debated during the final days of the campaigning period.

At 18.3% of the population, statistics tell us that close to 1 in 5 people have a disability in Australia.  As CEO of Vision Australia, the largest blindness and low vision service provider in the country, I work alongside colleagues who are blind or have low vision every day and I know their extraordinary capabilities and their value in our workplace.

But every day, I know there are willing job seekers out there struggling with inaccessible recruitment practices and discriminatory attitudes, who wonder about the right time to disclose information about their disability to a prospective employer. Vision Australia’s own research found that half (53%) the job-seekers who are blind or have low vision will give up looking because they are too disheartened.

However, both Australian and international researchers have found that employees with disability work just as hard as their peers, are no more likely to be injured in the workplace, and remain loyal to their employers for longer.  It’s important to dispel the myth that it costs more to hire people with disability.

I stand by the human resource policies at Vision Australia since they’ve helped us to maintain a healthy employment target, and this target drives us to do better.  At present, 14.5% of our workforce has vision impairment, and these staff work at every level of our organisation, in our Leadership Team and on our Board.

Jobs are critical to achieving a genuinely independent and economically sustainable lifestyle for anyone – and this is just as true for people with disability.  As one of the largest employers across Australia, the Government has a responsibility to play a distinct leadership role for this community. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the labour force participation rate for people with disability is 53%, which is far lower than for the remainder of the population at 83%.  It is undeniable that people with disability are grossly under-represented in the public sector workforce.  Research shows that this gap is widening, and steps to date have been unsuccessful in halting the decline.

Vision Australia is an employer of choice for the blindness and low vision community.  We are leading advisors and developers of information and communications technology to provide an enabling work environment, we practice affirmative action in the employment of blind and low vision candidates and we conduct regular research to build upon our evidence base.

To create more jobs for people with disability we need affirmative action taken to address poor employer attitudes who simply don’t understand the real benefits of a diverse workforce. 

Our experience has shown that when a person with vision impairment is employed, both the employer and the candidate’s co-workers gain an increased knowledge of their skills and abilities, helping to break down barriers, improve career development opportunities, and enabling willing workers to make a valuable contribution to the economic and social fabric of our society.

The Australian Human Rights Commission recently published their ‘Willing to Work’ findings on the national inquiry into employment discrimination against older Australians and Australians with disability.  This report explores the impact of setting targets and mandating quotas to create demand for candidates with disability, and as a CEO reporting against an employment target, I know this approach can work. 

The Australian blindness and low vision community has challenged the next Government to do better – when they speak about ‘Jobs and Growth’ we want to know they genuinely mean they’re putting employment first for all Australians, including people with disability. 

And we’d ask any prospective employer to really think about how accessible your recruitment practices are for job seekers with disability. 

Vision Australia has emailed five election priorities to more than 700 candidates during this campaign – and creating meaningful employment for people with disability was priority number one.

Ron Hooton is the Chief Executive Officer at Vision Australia

For more information on the Vision Australia 2016 federal election campaign.

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