Employing a disabled person is seen by many employers as too difficult, too expensive and likely to result in lower productivity. Those are the perceived negatives, says Adrian Coysh, Auckland partner of diversity-focused recruitment company JobCafe, but he believes employers generally don't understand the benefits disabled workers can bring to a workplace.
"Disabled workers appreciate the opportunity they have been given and this commonly leads to loyalty and longevity in a role," says Coysh, "with many disabled employees working harder and more conscientiously as a way of proving to their able-bodied colleagues that they're just as capable of doing the job."
His comments are backed up by a 2011 report by Deloitte for the Australian Network on Disability, which also found that the cost of recruiting disabled employees is generally lower, and most disabled workers have better attendance, higher productivity and lower health and safety issues than non-disabled staff.
Formerly a recruiter in the accounting industry, Coysh now has a particular interest in disability recruitment as a result of three of his four children having a condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has no current cure and often leads to total blindness.
"Having seen the awful stats and getting an understanding of the appalling problems disabled people face in getting meaningful employment, I decided I could use my recruitment skills for a better purpose," he says.
When Coysh first learnt about JobCafe, it focused on Maori and Pasifika as a diversity sector and it connected with that community via a Facebook page and a proven, successful website called The Kumara Vine. He decided that a similar focus on disability could be achieved, which led to the implementation of Possibility (www.possibility.net.nz), a website designed to inspire and educate both disabled people and employers about the potential of the disabled workforce.
The website profiles a number of disabled people with meaningful careers, and gives practical solutions to challenges faced. Also included are profiles of disabled jobseekers currently available for employers proactively looking to hire disabled people. Registration is free, and for the employer there are no recruitment fees.
Featured in Possibility is vision-impaired lawyer Ryan Keen, who has achromatopsia. He has limited vision, light-sensitive retinas and total colour-blindness and, despite achieving top grades at university, was turned down for at least 100 jobs. After contacting JobCafe, he secured a graduate contract position at law firm Simpson Grierson and HR director Jo Copeland says that accommodating his needs was easier than expected.
"Graduates normally sit by the windows, but as Ryan can't see in bright light we set him up in an internal office and ordered him slightly bigger computer monitors. The only challenge for Ryan was that his role involved marking up property plans in colour, but because Ryan can't see in colour, he got around it by drawing different patterns on the plans to denote various areas. A great solution that he came up with himself."
Spark has developed an initiative, Spark@home, which enables about 300 of its call centre staff to work from home, and has partnered with Inspire Group to create online learning rather than a face-to-face induction programme. Coysh says this could have hugely positive results for disabled people with mobility issues, as often the most difficult aspect of a job is just getting to work each day. He adds that the technology isn't confined to call centre roles as many jobs can be completed from a home base, potentially with a split week where people can work three days in the office and two at home.
"Sadly, many disabled people do not see a bright future for themselves, and as a consequence finish school and university with fewer qualifications than their able-bodied peers," says Coysh. "And even those who achieve tertiary qualifications often struggle to get their first career break or opportunity." He believes, given his background in executive recruitment, that this is the area in which he can provide the most assistance.
Social media now plays a large part in modern online recruitment, and Coysh says that because JobCafe places disabled jobseekers into that important market at no financial cost, it is an ideal medium for disabled jobseekers - and the agencies assisting them - to find jobs.
The many technologies now available to assist people with disabilities can make integration into a workplace quite seamless. "The use of computer reader systems by blind people has made a huge difference, as it means paper-based Braille is not required in many instances," says Coysh. "Devices like smart phones and tablets have allowed vision-impaired people to move around more freely using GPS for guidance, and prototypes of glasses are being developed that will enable the vision-impaired to read signs and recognise faces. This will be a hugely valuable tool to enhance their ability to find work."
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) funds several agencies designed to assist disabled workers, such as Supported Employment Agencies, Workbridge and Work and Income.
Despite what employers may think, only 10 per cent of disabled people require assistive technology or adaptations to workplaces to enable them to work. However, if this is required, "support funding" available via Workbridge covers computer software and alterations such as disabled toilets and ramps for wheelchair users.
Coysh believes "divergence of thought" is one of the key things disabled workers can bring to the culture of a workplace. "Many disabled people have had to think differently for most of their lives and can bring new ideas about how the work can be completed. It educates their work colleagues about how normal they actually are, and hopefully eliminates the preconceived ideas that we all harbour. This in turn leads to more businesses hiring disabled people."
Able-bodied employees can learn much about tolerance and understanding from working with disabled colleagues, says Coysh, but they can be surprised at how wrong their ideas about disability can be.
"In no time at all you forget about the disability and focus on the ability."