Workbridge, where abilities equal employment.

Why employ disabled people?

Disability affects huge numbers of people in New Zealand. One in five people have a long-term disability and as many as one in three people are estimated to be either disabled themselves, or close to someone who has a disability. They are your customers, employees, stakeholders, partners and competitors, family and friends.

If you employ more than a handful of people, it is quite likely that you already have someone with a disability working for you, beacause most disabilities are not obvious. Often employers and/or colleagues are not aware of the disability.

Disabled people make good, productive and creative employees

Disabled people work in every industry, and at every level. Many disabled people become disabled later in their working lives and have skills and qualifications which make them valuable employees.

Disabled employees bring different experiences and problem-solving perspectives to the workplace - they are often 'serial innovators' as a result of contending with an inaccessible world. Diversity drives innovation in the workplace. Teams which are more diverse are more creative.

The majority of disabled people are as productive as anyone else and do not take more sick leave. Neither does having a disability make an employee a health and safety risk. A study of Australian employers in 2007 [1] found disabled people have a lower than average rate of OSH incidents. In New Zealand research shows the safety rate for disabled people in the workplace was 99.78%.[2]

Most disabled people do not require physical accommodations or adjustments(EEO Trust survey 2005). For those who do, US research shows that the average cost is less than US$500 in most cases there is support available from the Job Support Fund.

In a tight labour market every employer knows the importance of recruiting from the widest talent pool possible. There are thousands of talented disabled people in New Zealand today who want the opportunity to contribute their skills.

Employers who have an understanding of disability issues in the workplace, who are "disability confident", see clear benefits across the business of employing disabled people. An inclusive, flexible culture enables employers to attract the best people and get the best from them. Employers of disabled people also see improved organisational performance.

Australian employers surveyed recently reported increased productivity, improved staff management and better employee and customer relations.[4]

By getting it right on disability you will make significant cost savings in your business

Recruitment is expensive. While 42% of NZ companies have a labour shortage only 45% of disabled people are in work (Business New Zealand, National Radio Morning Report, 17 August 2007).

Retaining employees who become disabled will help to ensure that you retain valued and skilled employees who know your business. Research in Europe found that 44% of disabled people say they could have stayed at work if their employers had made adjustments.[5]

The spending power of people with disabilities and their families is significant

A disability confident business is a more efficient, more inclusive, forward-thinking organisation. In a tight labour market and a competitive marketplace, disability confidence can give businesses an edge.

Involving disabled people in product development, testing and marketing helps create products and services which work for everyone – critical in an ageing market. Businesses which make sure they really understand and welcome disabled people have better reputations with both the public and with the growing number of companies and public sector organisations that use diversity as a criteria for contracting and investment.

While there has been little research in New Zealand into the needs of disabled customers, there are some interesting findings from overseas. In the USA disabled people make up the fastest growing minority consumer market, now worth US$220 billion [6] while in the UK 82% of customers with disabilities surveyed had taken their business to a more accessible competitor.[7]

Disability Confidence: The future of sustainable business*

The ability to understand and meet the individual needs of customers, clients and employees, and to profit from diversity, will underpin tomorrow's successful businesses. Disability confidence facilitates a fundamental shift in the ability of businesses to interact with all people. Some of the strategic trends affecting your business:

The workforce in the developed world is ageing

As fewer younger workers join the labour market, business will increasingly require disability confident knowledge to recruit and retain older workers. Twenty-five percent of people aged 44-64 have a disability.[8] The labour force aged 65 years and over, is expected to increase from 61,000 in 2006 to 102,000 in 2021 (National Labour Force Projections, 26 September 2005, Statistics New Zealand). Fifty percent of this age group have a disability.[9]

New technology constantly changes the way we work and makes more possible for all of us

Advances in adaptive technology mean that information technology (IT) is now accessible and easy to use for people with a whole range of disabilities. Sixty-two percent of all workers would be more productive with greater use of existing IT accessibility features (Microsoft & Forrester research, 2003).

The end of 'one size fits all' management creates more flexible employment options for disabled people

For the first time there are four generations in the workplace, bringing different approaches and values and distinct management challenges. There is no longer one standard career path. People move in and out of different industries, taking time out for education, travel and family responsibilities. Seeing disability as part of this picture is critical as more people experience disability themselves and have increased caring responsibilities.

Customers increasingly expect to be treated as individuals

Involving disabled people in product design, marketing and customer service drives innovation and gives businesses an invaluable perspective on the needs of older people with disabilities.

Increased public demand for accountability

Shareholders, community members and customers want to know that businesses they are involved with are responsible. Disabled people are an increasingly influential and vocal part of society.

Nearly a third of international companies report on disability in their social reports.[10]

Global legal responsibilities on business in the area of individual rights and disability are developing

On 30 March 2007, New Zealand was one of 81 signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which outlines our obligations in ensuring that disabled people experience human rights and opportunities on the same basis as other people. Article 27 of the Convention deals specifically with work and employment.

*Disability Confidence: The future of sustainable business

Taken from 'Realising potential: Disability Confidence builds better business' published by the Employers' Forum on Disability in the UK.

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