Misconceptions around mental health and disabilities creating barriers to SME employment


A new report released this week reveals that employer attitudes towards people with a disability are improving, but this isn’t necessarily translating into job outcomes.

The Changing Face of Disability report, commissioned by WISE Employment, explores the current attitudinal climate in SMEs across Australia towards people with disabilities in the workforce and considers how things have progressed over the last 25 years.

What it reveals is that whilst both employer attitudes are improving and becoming more positive, it isn’t sufficiently translating into actual jobs for those with a disability, which can be attributed to the many misconceptions still held across the workforce.

A vast majority (more than 80 per cent) of businesses surveyed state that there is a greater openness towards employing someone with disabilities compared to 25 years ago and that workplace accessibility has improved.

Similarly, job seekers with a disability can also see the progress, with more than 60 per cent agreeing that employers understand they are as productive and reliable as other workers.

Despite this, the report highlights that half of SMEs are not aware of any current staff in their business with a disclosed disability and a third have never employed someone with a disability before.

CEO of WISE Employment, Matthew Lambelle, shares the array of misconceptions uncovered from the research that become barriers to converting a positive attitude towards such job seekers into job outcomes.

“One in five SMEs believe that people with a disability are not as capable or are too difficult to employ, and just under a third believe people with a disability are too costly or aren’t as productive,” Lambelle explains.

“One impact of this attitude is that job seekers may try to hide their disabilities during the recruitment process. This report highlights that 78 per cent of job seekers with a disability feel disadvantaged when looking for work and two thirds choose not to reveal their condition to avoid missing out on an opportunity, which is something we are determined to overcome.”

Pointing out that the fundamental issues found with integrating people with a disability into employment include the lack of awareness of available support to employers and the fear of the unknown in employing staff with a disability, Lambelle says that the way to unlock the potential for employment of the marginalised is to educate businesses and provide evidence of successful

employment stories.

“We work closely with job seekers, as well as employers to help alleviate concerns and support the integration of people with a disability into the workforce,” Lambelle says. “We want employers to know the positive impact it can have on a business, which is the feedback we get from our employers every day.

“What the report has shown us is that we need to further build relationships with SMEs to improve awareness of services and resources available to support employers and continue to innovate our practice. For example, by establishing social enterprises and programs that hone in on supporting job seekers with a specific disability to provide tailored solutions to unique challenges.”

According to a report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that tracked the prevalence of mental health issues over a 12-month period, one in five Australians were diagnosed with a condition, which emphasises the need for greater acceptance in the workforce towards those with a disability.