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Employers have ‘unconscious bias’ against disabled jobseekers

Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti
23 July 2019 3 minute readShare
Dylan Alcott

“People with disability are fully capable of doing an office job, a supermarket or a retail shop. Just give us a go,” a graduate has urged employers, as part of a new push to tackle unemployment among, and misconceptions about, Australians living with a disability.

Oliver Hunter, a 24-year-old university graduate who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, was speaking as part of a new initiative by Paralympic gold medallist, nine-time tennis grand slam champion and disability advocate Dylan Alcott (pictured).

Mr Alcott established the Dylan Alcott Foundation in a bid to help particularly younger Australians living with a disability reach their full potential, including in the workplace. Now, the foundation has launched what it labelled “a behaviour change initiative” called Remove the barrier, in a bid to tackle unemployment among people with disabilities.

The campaign video can be seen below:

‘Unconscious bias’

“When people with disability look for work, it’s often what we don’t see that is the biggest barrier — that of unconscious bias,” Mr Alcott said.

“This invisible barrier is at the core of the campaign and is what the Dylan Alcott Foundation and the young people with disability involved in the campaign are asking businesses and individuals to remove.

“[We] decided it was time to raise awareness of unemployment among people with disability and change perceptions of what they can achieve in the workplace.”

According to the foundation, two-thirds of Australian employers that do hire someone with a disability have seen improved productivity, greater customer satisfaction and higher workplace morale.

It also said that studies have shown people with disabilities tend to take less sick leave and remain with an employer for longer than the rest of the workforce.

‘Let us have a crack’

For Mr Hunter, it has been difficult to overcome the perception that his jobseeking efforts have been thwarted specifically because of his disability.

“I’d happily go into an interview and get knocked back for my lack of skills, but I’ve always felt that my disability has been the sole reason for employers turning me down,” he said.

“Let us have a crack and you’ll see what we’re capable of.”

The Dylan Alcott Foundation suggested that Mr Hunter’s experience is an all too common one. It cited figures from the Australian Network on Disability that more than 4 million Australians currently live with a disability, but that only half (53 per cent) of those of working age — between 15 and 64 years — have paid employment.

Disability was also identified by recruitment firm Hays earlier this year as one of the factors why almost two in three Australians (63 per cent) have felt their career prospects had been limited by discrimination against factors beyond their control.

Employers get on board

Several prominent brands have already backed the Remove the barrier initiative, including ANZ Bank, NEC and Nike.

“Communities thrive when everyone has opportunity,” said ANZ’s CEO, Shayne Elliott, in a joint statement with the Dylan Alcott Foundation.

“Our role is to provide opportunity through employment and ensure our products and services are inclusive and enable every member of our communities to participate and maximise their potential.

“We know there is still work to be done to fully include people with disability in the workplace, so we’re pleased to support the Dylan Alcott Foundation in this important campaign.”

Nike’s Pacific general manager, Ashley Reade, meanwhile said the company was pleased to extend its support of Mr Dylan beyond his sporting commitments.

“We are dedicated supporters of Dylan on the court and have enjoyed celebrating the incredible and inspiring success of Dylan as an athlete. We are delighted to extend our support for Dylan off the court, for this important initiative which champions what Nike stands for: equality and inclusion,” he said.

‘Simply good business’

The Remove the barrier initiative was officially unveiled today (Tuesday, 23 July) and will run until the end of August. Imagery and the short film will appear in various media over that time, including digital and online, television and out-of-home media.

“I hope Remove the barrier sparks important conversations about disability inclusion in boardrooms, shop floors and offices around the country,” Mr Alcott said.

“Regardless of the fact that people with disability deserve the same rights as able-bodied people, disability inclusion is simply good business.”

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Employers have ‘unconscious bias’ against disabled jobseekers
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Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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