Disability employment: we're letting down the team

Australians like to be winners. We get very excited about sport. We talk about every game, we talk about players as though they were our best friends and go into a state of depression when our favourite teams lose.

How can we forget the uproar after the Rio Olympics when we ranked eighth (out of 207) in the total medal tally?

But when it comes to disability employment, Australia ranks an embarrassing 21st out of 29 countries.

Why is it that we are not happy unless we are one of the top countries in the world for sport, but seem to quietly accept our failure to improve the wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable?

I believe the single most important change that we can make to improve the lives of working age Australians with disability is to help them find a job.

Having a job gives you a sense of worth and a sense of purpose. It gives you independence.

Recent surveys indicate that people with disability are almost twice as likely as other Australians to be unemployed.

This figure has changed very little over the past 20 years.

Not only are we failing to close the employment gap, we are also failing to capitalise on the abilities that people with disability offer.

As a government, we support people with disability into jobs through a range of programs.

But less than one third of Disability Employment Services (DES) participants are still in employment three months after completing the assistance period. 

This must improve. We need to look for innovative ideas. We need to look for improvement.

We want to open employers’ eyes to the skills, capacity and benefits of people with disability.

While we are committed to ensuring jobseekers have a greater say in the services they receive, we also need to educate employers about the benefits of hiring a person with disability. 

We also need to support and mentor those who do.

When you hire a person with disability, not only do they genuinely appreciate the opportunity to become part of your team, but they bring with them a sense of loyalty and honesty that can be hard to find in a world of entitled Gen Ys. We also know people that with disability generally take less leave, have fewer accidents and stay in jobs longer than other workers do.

There is a need for reform in the disability employment sector.

We need to acknowledge that the benefits are a two-way street.

Giving a person with disability a job not only provides them with a sense of worth, but it also gives the employer an employee who is genuinely appreciative of the opportunity.

If you have a business and are thinking increasing your staff, consider employing a person with disability.

Not only will you be changing someone’s life, but you will see real benefits in your own business.

On November 2, Social Services Minister Christian Porter and I launched a Disability Employment Services discussion paper, calling for public input to ensure our DES is the best it can be. Please submit your ideas to www.engage.gov.au.

Jane Prentice is assistant social services and disability services minister in the federal government. International Day for People with a Disability is this Saturday.