Many workplaces do not make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. Shutterstock
Only 53% of Australians with disability are employed, compared to 83% of all working-age people. Australia ranks 21st out of 29 OECD nations when it comes to employment rates for people with a disability.
But looking at the data reveals an even darker story – complaints about disability discrimination are the largest category of discrimination reported to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), and the numbers have been steady for around 20 years.
Lower employment levels translate into Australians with disability living in poverty at the highest rates in the OECD.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics also found that the employment rates vary radically depending upon the “disability type”. Those who have a “psychological disability”, for example, have the lowest employment rate at 29%.
Employment also varies by “disability severity” (defined as mild, moderate, severe and profound). Employment decreases as severity increases. Only 26% of people with profound or severe physical disability are employed.
As you can see in the chart above, complaints to the AHRC are categorised by the legislation they fall under – Disability Discrimination Act, Sex Discrimination Act, Racial Discrimination Act, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act, and Age Discrimination Act.
Using this, we can see that disability discrimination has consistently represented the highest proportion of complaints, currently 37%. When you consider that the Racial Discrimination Act and the Sex Discrimination Act total 41% of cases combined, this gives some insight into the prevalence of workplace discrimination faced by people with disability.
The next chart shows the proportion of disability discrimination complaints that relate to the workplace. This is approximately 35% from the latest figures but has peaked at a much higher rate.
While we can’t explain the fluctuation, at various times there have been changes to the system, cuts in funding and political tensions. What can be interpreted from the figures is that disability discrimination has been sustained and ongoing over the two decades.