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Disability is not about inclusion

By Nick Wilson | |6 minute read

One in five Australians lives with a disability. Knowing how to build and cater to employees of all backgrounds is more than just ethical – it makes business sense.

When it comes to reform, knowing how to conceptualise an issue – where it sits relative to other issues and understanding the fundamental drivers behind it – is everything. Sometimes, the best intentions in framing can obscure the realities of an issue, and conceiving of disability in the workplace as just another inclusion metric is one such example.

According to Jake Majerovic, managing director at thinkless Group, many organisations are “making inclusion the context” when it comes to disability. Viewed this way, disability is an inclusion target like any other, be it race, gender, or sexuality.


“This is a good start. I support the fact that there are different levels of maturity, and starting here is great,” said Mr Majerovic.

However, he said, “I really want to start working with organisations where we can talk about vision impairment, hearing impairment, developmental delay, physical disability, and what is it you’re obligated to do from a legal standpoint and an ethical standpoint.”

‘It’s not a matter of clumping’

Mr Majerovic wants business leaders to consider how they can fulfil their social responsibility to voluntarily improve the lives they touch. This begins with really understanding disability: what it is, how it manifests, and what really helps. There’s a risk, when clumping disability in with other diversity metrics, that the nuance and complexity involved in addressing disability will be overlooked.

“The first place to start, which is logical for employees, is actually understanding the disability types as according to an authority,” said Mr Majerovic.

By accessing these resources – such as those offered by National Disability Services (NDS) – and getting educated, better, disability-specific strategies can be implemented.

“I’ll give you an example. Let’s say we’re dealing with hearing impairment. Where we need to get from a social impact perspective is [a place where] we are setting goals at that level,” said Mr Majerovic. “As an employer, you need to be making sure that you’re meeting your obligations for each disability type. Not just putting together a bunch of positive activities and calling that a strategy.”

“It goes beyond the categorisation of diversity, inclusions, accessibility; it’s really about attaining practical impact.”

From CSR to ESG

Recent progress on disability can largely be divided into two main phases, each with its own aims and conceptual baggage. First, from around 2010 to 2015, said Mr Majerovic, there was a swathe of disability strategies rolled out in the name of corporate social responsibility (CSR). “I think [CSR] was more about [organisations] demonstrating that they are ethical,” said Mr Majerovic.

More recently, companies have been formalising their disability strategies and frameworks under the umbrella of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) policies. The newer suite of reforms under ESG is more rigorous and bound by specific, measurable disability metrics. Moving forward, he said, the challenge is all about embedding disability into organisational operating models.

“That’s the hard part,” he said. “A lot of companies are struggling to go beyond their action plans and their policies. They’re struggling to go into the practical mode where rubber is hitting the road.”

Evolving targets

When asked what employers are most often getting wrong when dealing with disability, Mr Majerovic answered: “Taking just having a policy as the definition of done.” Too often, organisations are meeting their obligations at law and according to their own policies and doing little else.

“They’ll create working groups, and that’s the definition of done. They’ll create action plans, and that’s the definition of done. Seeing those levers as means to get measurable real impact, that’s where the opportunities lie,” he said.



Disability is a persistent condition that limits an employee's capacity to carry out routine tasks. It refers to anything permanent or likely to be permanent, may be chronic or episodic, is attributable to intellectual, mental, or physical impairment, and is likely to require continuous support services.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.