A new study from the University of Sydney has found that almost a quarter of Australian disability services do not employ any people with disability, and 20 per cent use less than three people with disability. This underrepresentation also extends to leadership roles within disability service providers, in what experts have labelled "an affront to the 'nothing about us without us" movement.
The researchers from the University's Centre for Disability Research and Policy called for the Australian Government to move beyond indirect 'goodwill' statements and invest in a strong and direct suite of policy measures, including disability employment and leadership quotas, wage subsidies, and disability service legislative reform.
The new data, published in the journal Social Policy and Administration, is unveiled for the first time following the introduction of further questions asked of employers in the 2021 National Disability Services (NDS) Workforce Census. The census highlights the sector's failings to value disability as part of diversity, with high percentages of responses to questions on employment of people with disability recorded as 'don't know' or 'we don't keep records.'
It shows that Australian disability service organisations:
24 per cent report they do not employ any people with disability.
50 per cent use at least one person with a disability
Only 24 per cent include at least one person with a disability on their board
Only 19 per cent use people with disability in management positions
The NDIS National Workforce Plan supports building a disability workforce that is 'responsive and capable'. However, based on troubling Census results, the researchers argue that the Australian Government needs to lead by example and build a diverse and inclusive disability services workforce that employs and promotes more people with lived experience of disability.
Director of the Centre, Professor Jen Smith-Merry from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, said overall, Australia has disappointingly low employment rates for people with disability compared to other countries, with only 48 per cent of people with disability in any form of employment compared to 80 per cent without. However, she argues that the failings of national policy to promote the engagement and advancement of people with lived experience of disability in disability services hold particularly significant consequences.
"By not employing and promoting people with lived experience of disability, many services are missing out on a range of benefits – these include an increased understanding of clients and services, gains in staff morale, higher staff retention and greater productivity," said Professor Smith-Merry, senior author on the paper.
The researchers also emphasise that the inclusion of people with lived experiences of disability within the disability services sector can lead to the development of lived experience leaders who have the potential to shape the industry to meet the needs of people with disability better.
The disability services sector must take immediate steps to increase the representation of people with lived experience of disability in their workforce and leadership roles. The Australian Government must lead by example by introducing disability employment and leadership quotas, wage subsidies, and disability service legislative reform to build a diverse and inclusive disability services workforce. This will benefit the force, clients, and services provided, leading to a more responsive and capable disability services sector.
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