Shift mindset on disability

I have fond memories of one of my first-ever jobs, in a butcher shop. It was my family’s local, so I got to know the shop owner well. It wasn’t a glamorous job but I was thankful to be given the opportunity to earn enough money to help pay my way through university.

Having a job helps with our self-identity. It’s a way to take control of our lives. But not all Australians are able to take part. That is something I want to change.

On Wednesday I am meeting with the disability sector, National Disability Insurance Scheme participants and their families and carers, providers, disability organisations, unions and governments to talk about employment and disability.

Last night, I held a dinner with some of those attending today’s gathering. It was a special evening, and we had a very special guest: NDIS participant Ken Gray who keeps busy with three jobs. I’ve written and spoken about Ken before, and he’ll be attending today’s gathering, too. Ken is an amazing example of the positive employment outcomes for a person with disability.

My colleague, Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth, is also holding an important roundtable with disability employment services, the private sector, unions and people with disability to talk employment outside the NDIS.

The outcomes from both gatherings will feed into the Prime Minister’s national job summit in September so we have productive conversations about employment across the board.

I have said it before but the employment of people with disability, and investment in the workforce supporting people with disability is an untapped resource. For the last 30 years, the employment of people with disability has not really improved.

In a time of full employment, the opportunities to employ people with disability have never been better.

Last year independent think tank Per Capita released a report which showed the NDIS had the ability to deliver a yearly economic benefit of about $52 billion and returns $2.25 for every dollar spent.

The report reinforces what we already know — that the scheme benefits all Australians.

The main aim for the day is to catapult NDIS participants into the spotlight. It is for their voice to be the leading voice. It is for the rest of us to hear their experiences and gain their insight on how we can get more employers to hire people with disability.

One of the first things I spoke about in Parliament in 2008 was the need for businesses to make employing people with disability a priority. I can see 14 years later some businesses heeded the call but not enough it seems.

Ms Rishworth and I will work together to change this. The minister has said, “There is an amazing, skilled workforce that is sadly underutilised. Hiring a person with disability makes good business sense and is good for the nation.”

The business case for employing people with disabilities is compelling. The performance and contribution of employees with disabilities far outweighs the common misconceptions on the cost of making adjustments to workplaces for people with disability.

Employers who have actually taken the step and employed people with disability have consistently found that they are as productive and as reliable as any group of employees.

People with disabilities tend to have better attendance records and remain longer with their employers. Organisations that are accessible to people with disability as customers and employees are more appealing to all consumers and stakeholders.

As a business owner, an employer, a manager — why wouldn’t you want that for yourself?

Those are just the business bonuses on the surface. Let’s talk about the benefits of having a job for people with disability. There are more than four million Australians who have disability, so one way or another, you know someone with disability.

Think of that person. Do they have a job? No?

Well helping them to get a job means they could make more friends, have more financial independence, contribute to our economy and improve their health, wellbeing and self-worth.

I acknowledge governments play a key role in guiding employers on how to make their workplace more accessible, but anyone who has looked for a job knows that informal networks and contacts can be even more important.

I may not have got that job with my local butcher, if it weren’t for my informal connections with the local businesses around me.

Let’s build on inclusion so more people with disability meet more people and can establish their own connections.

Doing this can be transformative in more ways than one.

Another focus for the day will be on how we can better support disability workers.

At the moment, the disability workforce is 270,000 strong across 20 occupations.

The Albanese Government is committed to increasing the number of workers in the disability-care sector to support participants to live the life they choose.

We want to make sure workers are properly remunerated and we want to make sure there is a better training system to help them expand their skills and careers in the NDIS.

The discussions will be completely open. In order for the NDIS to thrive, innovation needs to follow the voices of people with disability.

That may be innovation on how workers’ conditions can change, to make sure the best and brightest are looking after some of our most vulnerable.

Or perhaps it is innovations for business owners and employers on how they can make their workplaces better by hiring people with disability.

They can lead in their own industry by tapping into that largely untouched resource of employees with disability.

It’s time to shift the mindset towards embracing diversity as a means of enhancing the bottom line.