Creating better opportunities for work

By Danielle van Dalen May 21, 2019

New Zealand is in the middle of a national conversation on poverty, and yet, despite being over-represented in the poverty statistics, people with disabilities have largely been forgotten.

Unsurprisingly, research has found that employment is the most reliable pathway out of poverty. For people with disabilities, however, this isn’t the case. Despite hard work to improve this, barriers to employment remain. Employers generally want to do the right thing, but we hear fears it will be too expensive and too difficult to introduce people with disabilities into their workplace.

In reality, employers are missing out when they don’t employ people with disabilities

In reality, however, employers are missing out when they don’t employ people with disabilities, and through my work it’s become clear that it isn’t as expensive as employers fear. In fact, people with disabilities generally rate higher in job performance, and their inclusion in staff teams has been associated with improved staff culture and management practice.

It’s time that we change the misperceptions. Our research has found that with training and support, employers quickly gain confidence in hiring people with disabilities, a sentiment that is then shared by fellow employees as they are better equipped to confidently welcome people with disabilities into the team. Employers need the space to ask questions, find appropriate supports, and understand the costs and benefits involved.

Of course, not all people with disabilities are in a wheelchair, and the supports necessary can look quite different from one person to another. For example, screen reading technology might be necessary for one employee, while for someone else, keeping meetings in morning slots might be essential for maintaining energy levels.

A great place to start is to recognise the importance of upskilling.

But how are employers supposed to figure all of this out for themselves? A great place to start is to recognise the importance of upskilling. Last year the EMA ran a course titled “Employers Forum: Disability in the Workforce.” Events like these are the perfect spaces to ask questions about employing people with disabilities, the supports available, the reality of the costs and accommodations involved, and who to turn to with any questions or issues that arise.

Here, employers, HR personnel, and managers can discover that, not only are they very capable of employing people with disabilities, they’re also missing out if they don’t. Of course, organisations like the EMA, or other traditional HR organisations, need to ensure they are providing a sufficient number of these courses, reaching a wide and relevant audience, are answering the important questions, and are pointing to further avenues of support.

Our policy paper Creating Opportunities – Opening doors to employment for people with disabilities, outlines a series of recommendations like this for both government and employers. Together, these recommendations provide a toolkit to ensure people with disabilities are included in our national conversation on poverty and that together we find ways to overcome barriers and ensure employment provides the pathway out of poverty that it should.

It’s time to move from acknowledging the abilities of people with disabilities to creating opportunities that open the doors to sustainable, valuable work.

Policy Paper

Creating Opportunity

People with disabilities are overlooked in the national conversation on poverty and overrepresented in New Zealand’s poverty statistics. They face lower incomes, increased likelihood of reliance on government assistance, and a significant gap in the employment rate of people with disabilities in contrast to people without disabilities. Employment is, sadly, failing to provide the key pathway out of poverty for people with disabilities that it should.

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