When we talk about poverty, we rarely consider people with disabilities as a group who are particularly at risk. But when you think about it, wheel chairs, specialised computer software, adapted housing and transport, and high heating bills can all contribute to the high living costs of people with disabilities. Additionally, the 2013 Disability Survey showed that people with disabilities are more likely to have lower incomes (less than $30,000 per annum) than people without disabilities. These factors combined ensure that whether in developing countries such as India, or developed nations like New Zealand, people with disabilities are at an increased risk of poverty.
While the Disability Survey also found 74 percent of people with disabilities who are not in work want to be working, this same group face significant barriers to finding employment. These barriers include additional costs in sustaining employment—both for the employer and the employee with a disability—inaccessible workplaces, and incorrect perceptions from employers and the wider public of the costs of employing someone with a disability, or the supports available. As employment provides a key pathway out of poverty, overcoming these barriers is essential.
In fact, there are many benefits to employing people with disabilities. First, it’s often not as expensive as you might think. Most accommodations or changes to a workplace are free while any others typically cost under US$500. Secondly, employing people with disabilities can improve staff culture and management practices, and increase understanding of customers with disabilities; important, given a quarter of New Zealanders live with some form of disability. Finally, accessibility needs and the diminishing workforce of an ageing population emphasise the need for increased employment of people with disabilities.
We need to find the most effective ways to break down the barriers to employment people with disabilities face.
We need to find the most effective ways to break down the barriers to employment people with disabilities face. Last week we released a report entitled “Acknowledging Ability: Overcoming the barriers to employment for people living with disabilities.” In it, we make a few broad recommendations on how we can more effectively overcome the barriers to change this.
A key recommendation is better supporting both employers and people with disabilities to do this through upscaled, wrap-around supports. That is, these groups both need long-term, individualised, and flexible supports that recognise the diversity of needs and minimise the difficulties and costs involved in their employment. This could include greater awareness of the new Employer Advice Line which employers can call when any disability related issue or support need arises, or increasing the length of time employees with disabilities have support workers available.
Recognising the dignity and value of every New Zealander must include New Zealanders with disabilities.
Over the past few months poverty has played a key role in political and policy discussions. We cannot continue to have these conversations without talking about the overrepresentation of people with disabilities living in poverty. Recognising the dignity and value of every New Zealander must include New Zealanders with disabilities. We need to break down the barriers to employment people with disabilities face and ensure that employment really is a key pathway out of poverty.