A national survey on SMEs attitude towards people with disability revealed some surprising results. The Disability Confidence Survey Report showed how small to medium enterprises rated their awareness and inclusion of people with disability, as both employees and customers. Overall, the finding were positive with one in three of those businesses surveyed having employed people with disability.

Australian Network on Disability (AND) chief executive, Suzanne Colbert, said for the first time the survey presented an opportunity for SMEs to think about the diversity of their customer base and the steps they can take to make it easier for people with disability to do business with them. “The challenge is to translate that into positive action. The gap between attitude and action is about having the right level of information. One of the key goals for AND is to provide organisations with the information they need to be more inclusive. With one in five people in Australia with disability we are committed to making it easier for business to welcome customers and employees with disability.” The idea behind the survey was prompted by participants in the NDIS trial sites wanting to become more involved and part of their community.

Colbert told F2L that only about 10% of SMBs admitted they would struggle to employ people with disability, a figure she found “very encouraging.” Colbert said she was also reassured that 62% of organisations surveyed intended to do more in the next year for customers with disability.

One of the biggest challenges as Colbert sees it is in raising awareness of the needs of people with disability as employees and customers and providing them with equitable access. “We go to places that have not been designed or built for people with disability. It has been designed for someone else which leaves people with a sense of exclusion. By raising awareness of the little things business can do people won’t feel excluded, they will feel included. If we can achieve that it will be an awesome result.”

To help SMEs benchmark their performance AND is developing an Australian Access and Inclusion Index which will be available in 2016. It will include online tools and resources to assist business and community organisations to assess and build their disability confidence. “So over time we will have better management and better data that will give us a very solid picture of how these organisations are performing by raising awareness of the benefits of inclusion of people with disability,” Colbert said. SMBs are also invited to take the Disability Confidence Quiz to see how their business rates.

Jim Longley, deputy secretary, Ageing, Disability and Home Care, said the survey is a first of its type and as such, will set a benchmark for years to come. “It will give SMEs more confidence when it comes to employing people with disability. Employment is not just a means to achieving economic independence but contributes in a sense of who we are.”

He said with statistics showing the unemployment rate for people with disability is twice that of the overall community, NSW is fully committed to increasing employment opportunities for people with disability so they can be included in all aspects of society. “Supporting access to employment is fundamental to this and it is essential employers in both private and public sectors value the knowledge and competencies of people with disability.” He said it was important the NSW public sector be a leader in employing people with disability. “Data from the NSW Public Service Commission shows the proportion of people with disability employed in the NSW public sector has declined over the past few years and we need to do better.”

And how is the NSW Government responding? The Commission looked at why the decline was happening and has  made four recommendations with steps to implement these recommendations now underway:

  • Create an inclusive workforce culture for public sector employees with disability
  • To investigate ways to attract and retain employees with disability
  • Secure better data on NSW public sector employees to better inform workforce decision making
  • To ensure that people with disability have equable career and professional development opportunities

Key findings from the Disability Confidence Survey Report:

  • 89% believe their organisation has a positive attitude to employing suitably skilled people with disability
  • 80% believe they have customers with disability
  • 53% say they have done something specific to assist customers with disability in the past 12 months
  • 62% are more likely to make at least some changes to accommodate customers with disability in the next 12 months
  • 34% have employees with disability although 21% did not know if any of their staff had any disability
  • Nearly 90% of businesses had a positive attitude to employing people with disability with suitable skills
  • In the past year 73% of education and training organisations, 71% of hospitality organisations and 65% of healthcare organisations had done something specific to assist one or more customers with disability

The national survey was taken with 500 Australians working in small to mid-size organisations employing between five and 200 people included business owners, managers and staff at all levels. Sectors included in the survey were healthcare, education, manufacturing, retail, professional services and hospitality. The survey will be conducted annually to measure awareness and inclusion of people with disability as customers, employees and community members.

Caption. Event facilitator ABC presenter Jeremy Fernandez with Australian Network on Disability chief executive, Suzanne Colbert

For more information and to download the report visit: www.and.org.au and to see how your business rates take the Disability Confidence Quiz at: www.and.org.au