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‘Can’t we at least have an even playing field?’: The hardships of workers with disability

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Those living with disability are finding it all too common to be marginalised in the workforce. This is having detrimental effects on wellbeing.

One in five people in Australia have a disability. Despite such a large portion of the country being affected, there are still considerable challenges to overcome.

In fact, 16.5 per cent of adults with a disability live in poverty, compared to 10.6 per cent who do not. This is largely due to workforce participation rates, with just 53.4 per cent of people with a disability aged 15 to 64 being employed. This figure jumps to 84.1 per cent of those without disability.


Clearly, more can be done on both a government level and in our workplaces to create more inclusive environments. Now, national disability sector advocate and co-founder of Developing Australian Communities, River Night, is speaking up against a lack of effort in breaking down barriers.

“The key problems that we face in the employment sector for people living with disability is not just the social and physical barriers but the devaluing of people through legislation and regulation that allows for a system to legally discriminate and marginalise an entire population,” said Mr Night.

“Why is it that a marginalised population that has higher rates of poverty and chronically low employment rates is targeted to receive less super compared to other Australians? We must see key action to ensure pathways for employment like any Australian instead of stagnate options that often do not lead to anything more than rock bottom.”

According to Mr Night, Aussies with disability are facing unfair discrimination when applying for roles, which only further drives the unemployment results.

He commented: “It is hard enough for people that live with disability struggling to decide to apply for roles given the blatant discrimination out there. It is too easy to see ‘disability’ and subtly add those people to the ‘do not call back list’. Once we do get a job, can’t we at least have an even playing field?”

“Calling some settings sweatshops and demonising group support employment and skills development settings is a cheap shot for many great programs, but we cannot lose sight that some of these settings do resemble the worst types of employment settings. It is not all good or all bad.”

As previously reported by HR Leader, of those with disability who are employed, 45.2 per cent report experiencing unfair treatment or discrimination from their employer in the past year – often resulting in heightened stress and declines in physical or mental health.

Employers should see the value that employees with disability can bring to their workforce and work towards flipping the statistics. Not only can these marginalised employees create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, but they can assist in mitigating talent shortages and boosting job performance through a wide range of skill sets.

“We must prioritise and fund a range of settings and pathways for employment, or we risk doubling down on ensuring we keep certain populations in poverty and living with barriers to success,” explained Mr Night.

“By short-changing an already underpaid population, it is a double whammy when they face retirement with even less resources and options. I am surprised we don’t hear more from unions on this, but I guess you can’t afford the union fees on $2.90 an hour.”



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.


The practice of actively seeking, locating, and employing people for a certain position or career in a corporation is known as recruitment.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.