SME’s still hold outdated stereotypes about customers and employees with disability.

The Australian Network on Disability (AND) 2017 Disability Confidence survey of more than 500 small and medium enterprises found that many still don’t have a good understanding of customers with disability. The survey also revealed that many SMEs also held an outdated view about people with disability as employees too, a situation AND CEO, Suzanne Colbert described as “disappointing”.

One of the most discouraging findings from the survey was that in the past 12 months, 62 per cent of SMEs have done nothing to make it easier for customer with disability to do business with them, with half citing a lack of specific request as the main reason. This finding was supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report Missing Out that showed one in three customers from diverse backgrounds, including people with disability, said their customer needs were often unmet over the past 12 months.

“SMEs need to think about how they can be more welcoming and inclusive,” Colbert said, “with no change in SMEs ability to be accessible and inclusive of people with disability in the past two years”.

The situation for jobseekers with disability was equally disheartening with only three in 10 SMEs employing people with disability. This is despite more than half of the businesses surveyed having a positive attitude to employing skilled people with disability.

According to Colbert, many survey participants admitted that they did not feel that people with disability were relevant to their work or situation. More positively, 66 per cent of those who do employ people with disability experience clear benefits, including strengthening workplace morale, improved skills set, greater customer satisfaction and improved productivity.  And, 41 per cent of survey participants recognised the inclusion of job applicants with disability as important to their business. However, many businesses still see job applicants with disability as “not appropriate for our work”.

Colbert added that the AND works in partnership with more than 200 large employers who are making it easier for people with disability to do business with them. However, small business is Australia’s largest business segment and need further guidance to welcome customers and employees with disability, she said.

Disability discrimination receives the highest level of complaints across the board to the AHRC.

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