Time for action on disability employment


Our new federal government needs to invest in employment of disabled people, starting with the next CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency, writes Christina Ryan, CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute.

Over the past 20 years, people with disability could have wallpapered our houses with the many plans and strategies we were promised would close the employment gap between us and our non-disabled colleagues – but in reality, very little has changed. Statistics show that only 48 per cent of disabled people of working age are employed, compared with 80.3 per cent of non-disabled people. This disability employment gap hasn’t changed in decades. 

Many disabled people experience discrimination and prejudice in both getting and keeping a job. Employers often don’t make the reasonable adjustments to the workplace that are necessary to make sure disabled people can do their jobs.


Right now though, people with disability have reasons for cautious optimism, as our newly elected federal government made a pre-election commitment to a centre for excellence for disability employment. They also pledged to return people with disability to the centre of our National Disability Insurance Scheme. 

The Disability Leadership Institute is urging the government to take three steps which we believe will make a tangible difference to disability employment outcomes within the public sector and beyond.

The first step is to put a disabled person in charge of fixing the NDIS, following the resignation of the NDIA CEO, as well as more disabled people in senior leadership of the scheme. Disability expertise is vital to getting the NDIS working for disabled people. What’s more, if our flagship national disability agency is disability-led, it will send a strong signal to businesses that people with disability can fill senior executive roles.

The next step is to actively recruit more disabled people at every level of the public service. This will deliver much more inclusive public services, for disabled people as well as the whole community.

And finally, they can use the huge purchasing power of government to insist on a minimum level of disability employment in every company and organisation they do business with.

At the Disability Leadership Institute, we hear every day about the great work that disabled people around Australia are doing in the private, public, and for-purpose sectors. They lead with strong empathy, creativity and vital innovative problem-solving skills, many gained because they spend their lives finding ways to adapt as disabled people. It is well past time for our leadership skills to be valued and recognised.

The time for talking about the disability employment gap is over – we need urgent action. 

The new federal Labor government must grab this chance to reset disability employment, and take strong action to ensure disabled people are fully included at all levels.

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