Debunking myths about jobs and disabilities

| November 10, 2014

Minister for Employment Eric Abetz recently said that improving job opportunities for people with disabilities was a major priority for the Australian Government. Tom Baxter, CEO of not-for-profit organisation Ostara Australia, challenges all Australian employers to give people with a disability a go.

When it comes to finding jobs, people with mental illness and disabilities face many hurdles. And the biggest hurdle of all is finding employers willing to give them a go.

It’s not that employers are deliberately non-inclusive. More often, it is because of the fear of the unknown: ‘will they be able to stay in a job?’, ‘will they understand simple instructions?’, or ‘will they be team players?’

However, experience tells us such fears are unfounded. Employees with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, tend to be more loyal and equally, if not more, engaged in their work than employees without disabilities.

The reality is that one in five Australians experience some form of mental illness every year. The long held assumptions and stereotypes surrounding mental health disability in particular need to be challenged, not least because they are generally incorrect but, more critically, because finding and maintaining employment is so important for building self esteem, creating independence and overcoming mental illness.

Reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics state that 20% of people with a psychological disability are willing and able to work but are unemployed. In real terms, this equates to thousands of people.

At Ostara Australia, we are acutely aware of this problem. We are the country’s largest disability employment service specialising in finding jobs for people experiencing mental illness. Our database is filled with job seekers wanting employment. And our biggest challenge is finding employers who are willing to ‘give someone a go’.

Over the past year we’ve placed more than 1,700 people into employment, across all job sectors. We have links with 5,500 employers nationally, ranging from small businesses through to franchises and large retail outlets such as Nandos, Woolworths, Coles and Subway.

For employers who do take up the challenge and recruit through Ostara Australia, the support awaiting them is significant. There is a comprehensive free recruitment and job matching service, disability awareness training for existing employees, access to subsidies, training and counselling to ensure job seekers are job ready, and ongoing support for as long as needed by the employer and/or employee.

‘Job in Jeopardy’, a government funded program, is also available to employers who feel they have an employee whose injury, disability or health condition is affecting their performance at work. Ostara Australia delivers a tailored program to assist the employee with retaining their job. This could include workplace modifications or special equipment, support in the workplace to help manage the impact of the injury, disability or health condition, or advice about job redesign.

In just one example, we secured $20,000 in government funding to implement workplace modifications. Nothing is too much trouble.

We acknowledge that it may not be easy. Often people with disabilities have had a disrupted education and a patchy employment history as a result of their illness. However with effective education, training and support these adversities can generally be overcome.

I challenge all Australian employers to consider employing someone with a disability. The rewards are enormous – both for your business and for the person whose life you will help to transform.



  1. Lisa

    November 15, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Employment opportunities for everyone

    Tom, As an HR manager for almost 20 years, I was pleased to read about your organisation's work and to learn of the government-funded Job in Jeopardy program. The latter is a relatively new and, in my experience, much needed program. One of the most concerning and disappointing trends that I noticed in the manufacturing sector in which I worked, was the move of employers towards the easy fix of importing skilled migrants rather than employing Australians and training them. I noticed that our Federal government is further relaxing access to work visas. It seems this shortsightedness will only serve to undermine the opportunities for not just Australians with disabilities but for all Australians, especially our youth. I commend your work, Lisa