Business benefits of employing people with disability

Disability inclusion in business makes good business. Employment of people with disability[1] is everyone’s business. Smart workplaces are embracing an inclusive and diverse workforce, gaining access to a talent pool brimming with skilled people with disability. While forward-thinking organisations know of the vast benefits, some organisations are missing out.

The World Health Organisation states that over 1 billion people worldwide have lived experience of disability, and that it’s likely almost everyone will experience disability at least once in their lifetime – whether temporary or permanent[2].

In Australia, over 4.4 million people have lived experience of disability: that’s 1 in 5 people[3]. Yet only 53.4 % of people with disability of working age are actively working3. And of those with disability that are employed, 10% are underemployed[4].

The Valuable 500’s diverISH campaign suggests that while 90% of organisations claim to value diversity, only 4% prioritise disability[5].

In recent years, we’ve seen a shift in momentum on the benefits and need for inclusion and diversity – from gender to LGBTQ+. From this experience, we know that we too can build disability confidence and ensure disability inclusion is part of business moving forward.

Businesses are losing out when they leave disability inclusion off the agenda. We’ve gathered a list of 10 business benefits you gain when employing people with disability – with little to no extra cost to the employer, as about 60% of workplace adjustments cost nothing[6]. And for the ones that do cost – government assistance is available to assist with costs for eligible persons.

But there are even more reasons to hire from an untapped talent pool. Below are 10 business benefits of an inclusive workforce that can empower your organisation.


Widen your talent pool

Did you know?
Accenture reported workplaces could gain access to a new talent pool of more than 10.7 million people if workplaces were disability inclusive in the U.S

 In Australia, over 4.4 million people have disability and 2.1 million are of working age. Of those, there is currently an untapped market of 1 million people with disability seeking employment.

Inclusive recruitment processes offer you a wider reach in talent pools. With only 53% of people with disability of working age employed3, there’s a vast number of talented, skilled and knowledgeable people may currently be excluded from your recruitment due to unintentional barriers.

Unintentional barriers can be as small as only having job applications available in one format on your website, like PDF and no accessible versions; the barriers can be as small as listing out requirements that are not actually essential – like saying suggesting a candidate needs a drivers license for the role, when there are alternatives available.

Barrier-free recruitment processes signals to all talent that your organisation is inclusive. Accessible job ads, flexible interviews, adjustments to online assessments, changes to group assessments – will all widen the pool applications and in turn you will have access to get better candidates for vacancies.

Case study

HOBAN Recruitment completed Australian Disability Network’s Disability Confident Recruiter program in 2021. With over 90% of their staff trained to be Disability Confident Recruiters, the team is well equipped to place employees with disability into roles. Advertising over 5,500 different roles every year, the barrier-free recruitment process has now given HOBAN access to around 20% wider pool of skilled jobseekers.


Expand your consumer base

Did you know?
There are four times the number of intended customers when products and services are designed “with unique needs in mind[7].”

Where traditional design persists, inclusion and access is not guaranteed for consumers and market potential is not reached[8].”

People with disability have experience in navigating a world that does not always cater to them. Often, people with disability have faced multiple barriers that they have had to workaround in order to participate[8]. Because of this experience, often people with disability have strong skillsets in innovation and problem-solving, with inclusive workforces being 9 times more likely to innovate[9].

Similarly, inclusive workforces promote concepts like universal design, which improves products and services for not only people with disability, but the wider market[10].

This diversity of thought can innovate the way organisations promote, present or deliver products and services, allowing them to reach a much wider consumer base, and can “drive firm-wide Return On Investment (ROI)[11].”

When designing inclusively, products and services are not only improved for people with disability but are also improved for everyone[11].

Case study

The Centre for Inclusive Design highlights four different examples of inclusively designed products in their report, The Benefit of Designing for Everyone, one of which is the impact of subtitles.

Originally created for people hard of hearing or people who are deaf, subtitles are now widely used beyond the original considered consumer base. The Centre for Inclusive Design reports that in the UK, a study found that 80% of people using subtitles are not deaf or hard of hearing[8].

Similarly, subtitles featured on social media are becoming commonplace and recommended best practice to drive engagement in media content. Ai media reports that 83% of people consuming media in the US watch videos without sound[12].

Ai media also states that its more likely for 80 % of people to watch through the entire length of a video when subtitles are available, instead of only watching the first few seconds or skipping the video entirely[13].


Retain workers

Did you know?
Employees in inclusive workplaces have more job satisfaction and are 4 times more likely to stay longer with their employee.

If you’re finding that your business has a high turnover rate, resulting in gaps of knowledge within your team – it’s time to look at building an inclusive and diverse workforce to retain workers.

A review released by Safe Work Australia, reported that various studies have found the retention rate of people with disability is higher than the retention rate of their peers without disability[13]. And while acquiring disability can occur at any stage in life, the likelihood increases as workers age[3]. With the ageing population in Australia, it makes it more likely for your workers to acquire disability in the coming years.

Businesses that support employees with disability and create an inclusive workplace ensure that skillful, knowledgeable employees remain in the business, strengthening your workforce.

Case study

Australian Disability Network’s member Compass Group has found similar results. A hospitality company, the organisation has worked closely with Disability Employment Service (DES) partners to increase their employment of people with disability.

Compass Group’s DES Partner Program equips their people leaders with disability confidence training prior to working closely with DES Partners to attract jobseekers with disability into their employment opportunities. Employees engaged through their DES Partner Program achieve a retention rate of more than 95%, which is significantly greater retention than employees engage through other means. For Compass Group this equates to an estimated $1 million in savings when 5% of new hires are sourced through the DES Partner Program, based on rehire costs.


Represent your customers

Did you know?
Return on Disability reports that “when asked, people with disabilities say that between 75% – 80% of their customer experiences are failures
[12].” Through an inclusive workplace, you have the power to change this.

The Australian consumer base is diverse, and our workforces should reflect that.

In Australia, people with disability and the elderly hold over $40 billion dollars annually of disposable income, but these target markets are largely untapped because traditional design of products and services excludes people with disability and the elderly[8].

But hiring employees that reflect your consumer base can improve products and customer experience. In fact, inclusive workplaces are 5 times more likely to have excellent customer service[10].

This is a clear opportunity for employers to support their consumer base through improved customer service.

Case study

The late Leonie Jackson spent 20 years in education and policy campaigning tirelessly for captions to be available in classrooms, workplaces and conferences, to ensure people who are deaf can fully participate in mainstream schools and employment.

Her experience led her to joining Ai-Media, where she was a key driver of the company’s purpose and subsequent success. Ai-Media now delivers live captioning for 6,000 livestream events per week internationally.


Lower absenteeism

Did you know? Absenteeism rates drop for inclusive workplaces.

Some employers may believe the common misconception – that people with disability take more absentee days than their peers without disability, which in turn impacts productivity and workplace performance.

But research conducted by Graffam et al discovered this isn’t the case; in fact, absenteeism rates drop for employers that hire people with disability[14]. This is because people with disability take less absent days compared to their peers without disability[9].

Disabilities range vast and wide. As we understand disability through the social model, it’s important to note that not all disabilities are health related – which means that not all people with  disability will need additional time off work in comparison to their peers without disability.


Improve brand reputation

Did you know?
Companies that improve their inclusion of people with disability were 4 times more likely to outperform their peers in shareholder returns

Brand reputation is increasingly important. Brands that engage with policies and practices that serve the broader community beyond making a profit are building a trusting, loyal consumer base.

Many consumers make decisions to engage with a brand based on brand trust[15]. In a study conducted by Nielsen, 66% of customers in over 60 countries stated they would spend money on a brand that used corporate social responsibility practices[15]. There was an evident connection between brands that are “doing good for the community,” and “doing well with consumers[15].”

Momentum is building in the disability inclusion space. Organisations like The Valuable 500, have engaged 500 CEOs worldwide who have pledged to be disability inclusive in their business.

So why not give your organisation the extra edge through inclusive policy and corporate social responsibility?


Enhance productivity

Did you know? Studies suggest that employing people with disability creates a workforce that is more productive[7] [16].

If you want to enhance productivity in your business, it’s time to build out an inclusive workforce and hire people with disability.

Despite misconceptions that suggest people with disability lower productivity in the workforce, research shows this is not the case.

Similarly, in some instances, employees with disability who are in the right roles with required workplace adjustments have been found as more productive than their peers without disability[9].

In a rapid literature review commissioned by the former NSW Department Family and Communities Services (now the Department of Communities and Justice), researchers found that “the most common reason given for employing people with disabilities was cost-effectiveness, due to their productivity[17].”

Case study

An American pharmacy company called Walgreens set out to discover the difference in productivity between their employees with disability and employees without disability. All employees were paid at the same rate to do the same job. Over the period of five years, the data concluded that employees with disability and employees without disability are equally productive, although it was noted that in 10 Walgreens locations employees with disability were more productive than their peers without disability[18].


Engaged workplace culture

Did you know? If workplaces were more inclusive with “equal cultures,” employees with disability would be 1.5 times more engaged in the workplace, with career aspirations that would be 2.3 times stronger[19].

Inclusive workplaces are good for everyone. Diversity attracts and retains from the widest possible talent pool and can strengthen your workforce.

According to a 2018 Accenture report, inclusive workplaces that embrace people with disability assist in raising awareness in employees without disability for ‘how to make the workplace more inclusive and better for everyone[7].

In inclusive workplaces, 83% of millennial workers reported feeling higher levels of engagement with 76% reporting feeling empowered[20].

NSW Health reports that disability inclusion can improve workplace morale and enhance teamwork in organisations[21]. APM reports that an inclusive workplace can result in stronger team morale and a “more positive workplace atmosphere[22].”

Similarly, a 2020 Accenture report identified workplaces with “more equal cultures,” to have a positive impact on employees with disability. These “more equal cultures,” benefitted from eight factors like Employee Resource Groups, fair and transparent pay, flexible working options and mental wellbeing options, to name a few. Accenture suggests that if more workplaces were inclusive like this, employees with disability would be 1.5 times more engaged in their workplace, with career aspirations that would be 2.3 times stronger – and 1.5 times more confident[19].

Case study

RMIT University, a recurring top performer of Australian Disability Network’s Access and Inclusion Index, know the benefits of an inclusive workforce. They are the first university to achieve Disability Confident Recruiter Status. Through the organisation’s dedication to building an inclusive team, they have improved access to employment, training and development, products and services, premises, communications and information communications technology.

With over 94,000 students and 12,000 global staff, RMIT is dedicated to creating an inclusive community for all.

RMIT University’s Interim Vice-Chancellor and Senior Disability Champion, Dionne Higgins, said the continued participation in Australian Disability Network’s Access and Inclusion Index reflected the University’s commitment to maintain and build accessible physical, cultural and digital environments for all of their community.

“Being an inclusive workplace to work and study is what makes RMIT so special,” she said.

The university has continued to incorporate changes in their internal practices to continue their commitment to inclusion and accessibility.

Amy Love, RMIT Senior Inclusion Manager, People, says that building this culture “elevates the standard for us to work toward and provides an opportunity to implement leading practices.”


Lower workplace risk

Did you know? A study conducted by Safe Work Australia found people with disability are less at risk of occupational injury when compared to their colleagues without disability[13].

Similarly, the rates of occupational hazards and injuries also minimises where people with disability are present[14].

These benefits help to create cost effective businesses. Organisations who have built capacity for inclusion also minimise risk of injury, complaint, or breach of discrimination law.


Uphold the rights of people with disability 

Did you know? By employing people with disability, not only are you doing the right thing and gaining all the positives listed above, you are assisting an individual with access to financial independence and a higher standard of living[23].

Visibly and actively recognise and uphold the rights of people with disability.

Research shows that employment has positive impacts for everyone – including self-worth[23].  By employing people with disability, you are upholding one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development goals, including the employment, decent work for all and social protection[24].

Organisations who employ people with disability will also be upholding the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities[25] (CRPD).

Case study

For students and jobseekers with disability, participating in some of Australian Disability Network’s programs like the Stepping Into program has provided this experience.

“[Participating into Stepping Into] was really transformational for me. I don’t think I’d be where I am now without it. It just gave me the opportunity to see my disability as something that added value to my life rather than took value away.

I can’t say enough good things about [Stepping Into]. I’m so thankful to the program for the confidence that it gave me. I think that honestly was the catalyst for everything that I’ve done after it, and without it, I don’t think that I’d be where I am today.” – Debbie Heron, Regional Manager at Ability First Australia.


So how can you access these benefits?

Overall, building an inclusive, diverse workforce benefits everyone – your employees, your organisation, your customers and your community as a whole.

Building up disability confidence in your business doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Australian Disability Network offers a range of services to assist businesses on their disability confident journey.

Our Access and Inclusion Index measures your performance over 10 key areas to assist you in improving accessibility across your business. We can assist with building, reviewing and implementing Accessibility Action Plan; we can also review processes to ensure they are accessible.

Our Disability Confident Recruiter sessions provide training for recruitment focused areas of your business so you can recruit accessibly and have access to a wider talent pool. We also offer training to build up disability confidence.

Our programs like PACE mentoring and Stepping Into provide you with firsthand experience of working with employees with disability.

We also provide many more offerings to help you build up a disability confident workplace.

There’s no better time to start your disability confidence journey.

Get on board.

Choose inclusion.

Become a member.


[1] Disability Employment describes employment that is accessible and inclusive of people with disability, from the recruitment stage all the way through to and inclusive of employment.

[2] World Health Organisation 2021, Disability, World Health Organisation viewed 11 March 2021

[3] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, ABS Website, viewed on 12 February 2021

[4] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020, People with Disability in Australia 2020: In Brief Australian Government Viewed 24 March 2021

[5]The Valuable 500 (2019) DIVERSish | Lots of Likes DIVERSish [online video] viewed on March 9 2021

[6] MAXSolutions 2020, The Benefits of Hiring People with Disability, viewed 1 March 2021

[7] Centre for Inclusive Design 2019, The Benefits of Designing for Everyone viewed 24 March 2021

[8] Aichner, T. 2021  ‘The Economic Argument for Hiring People with Disabilities,’ Humanities and Social Sciences Communications Volume 8 (Issue 1) viewed 12 February 2021

[9] Job Access 2019 2.2 Disability Employment Basics – diversity makes good business sense 

[10] Persson, H. Ahman, H. Yingling, A. Gulliksen, J. (2014) ‘Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts – one goal? On the concept of accessibility – historical, methodological and philosophical aspects,” Universal Access in the Information Society 14 pp.505-526

[11] Return on Disability 2020, Design Delight from Disability – 2020 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability viewed 9 March 2021

[12] Ai Media 2021 4 Reasons You need to Caption Your videos viewed 6 May 2021

[13] Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, 2007 Are People With Disability at Risk at Work? A Review of the Evidence pp. 1-70 SafeWork Australia viewed June 25 2021

[14] Graffam J, Shinkfield A, Smith K and Polzin, U 2002, ‘Employer benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability’, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, vol. 17, (no. 4), p. 251-263.

[16] Hindle, K. Noble, J. Phillips, B. (1999) ‘Are Workers with Disability Less Productive? An Empirical Challenge to a Suspect Axiom’ The Refereed Stream of the Anzam 99 Conference University of Tasmania, pp.5-6

[17] Randle, M. Reis, S. 2019, Changing community attitudes toward greater inclusion of people with disabilities – A rapid literature review, Department of Communities and Justice, viewed at  pp. 1-64

[18] Kaletta, J. Binks, D. Robinson, R. 2012 ‘Creating an inclusive workplace: integrating employees with disabilities into a distribution center environment’ Professional Safety pp.62-71

[19] Accenture 2020, Enabling Change Getting to Equal 2020: Disability Inclusion pp.1-27 viewed 15 October 2021

[20] Deloitte University, 2015. The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion: The Millennial Influence viewed on 8 October 2021

[21] NSW Health 2020. Disability Inclusiveness in the workplace – benefits from an employee perspective viewed 8 October 2021

[22] APM 2021 How Diversity and inclusion support a healthy workplace viewed 6 October 2021

[23] Australian Human Rights Commission n.d 6 Economic and social benefits of employing people with disability viewed on 15 May 2021

[24] United Nations n.d Employment, decent work for all and social protection  viewed 27 July 2021

[25] United Nations, n.d, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) viewed 27 July 2021