Are we unemployable?

One of my biggest fears being a person living with a disability is not getting a job. Right now, I’m only 19 and about to go into Uni so the need is not as great as those older than me. However, I know that finding even casual or part-time work for me at the moment is already tricky. I can’t get those regular part time jobs like working at Woolies, a fast food joint, or a restaurant as a waitress as it is physically challenging – I’ve always known I am more suited to an academic or social-type job. That’s why I’m going to play the long game for a while and focus on gaining the qualifications I need to do those types of jobs.

However, already I hear stories of people with a disability who are unable to get employment or who don’t progress in their jobs EVEN WITH the capabilities or qualifications required. In June last year ABC’s QandA held a disability panel and one audience member by the name of Fiona Bridget had this to say on finding work:

I’m 35 and have an undergraduate degree in visual arts, a Masters degree in art administration, and a post graduate diploma in politics and public policy. I’ve applied for graduate positions with commonwealth departments but was unsuccessful. I applied for a graduate position with NDIA. As a disabled person, I thought I might have stood a chance there. I received no feedback at all. I have come to the realisation that I may never get a job…

This struck fear in my heart and I’ve remembered it ever since (obviously not word for word – I looked it up for accuracy, but I remembered the idea). What if after all my hard work one day I just didn’t get a job?

People with a disability are employed at a rate 30% lower than the general community. According to the Australian network on Disability; the unemployment rate for those aged 15-64 with a disability, is significantly higher (9.4%) than those without a disability (4.9%) in 2017. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that a whopping 53.4% of people wiyh a disability (15-64) participated in the workforce compared to 83.2% without a disability.

The lack low rates or lack of employment of people with a disability is often justified by common assumptions that people with a disability have low productivity rates, can’t perform jobs as well as able-bodied people, aren’t qualified, take more sick days, don’t stay in employment as long or are a hinderance to the work environment.

My question is, is this really true? Are we unemployable?

People with a disability don’t have the qualifications.

We already KNOW this can’t be true after hearing the above recount by Fiona Bridget. Other instances like a story passed on by Carly Findlay in her new book “Say Hello”; where one of her friends who had two Masters, in international law and journalism, and a Bachelors degree in political sciences. Her last disability recruitment place sent her to go collect tickets at a train station… huh? Furthermore, actress Kirunu Stamel told the QandA panel that one company threw her entire resumé in the bin after hearing that she was a person of short stature – wouldn’t even consider her qualifications!

I myself am about to embark on the journey of getting my first Bachelors degree in Communications and possibly further qualifications so that by the time I start looking for employment, I’ll have the education required. Thousands of other people with a disability will have or will be doing the same. IN FACT, I am willing to bet that people with a disability are more likely to seek further education than those without a disability BECAUSE they can’t do the jobs that require physical/hands-on labour.

People with a disability are less productive than an able-bodied person.

It’s my opinion that people with a disability who do finally get hired are probably more likely to work harder because of how difficult it was to get the qualifications or to find employment in the first place. I reckon they perform just as well if not better than people without a disability… Oh, would you look at that! Deloittedid a study that said that people with a disability are 90% more likely to be EQUAL to or MORE productive that an able-bodied person. MYTH BUSTED!

People with a disability take more sick days.

Telstra commissioned a study over 15 months that found people with a disability have 8 LESS sick days of than an able-bodied person. Again, I think this is because they are more inclined to want to do better and work harder as they do not take their employment for granted. People with a disability also stay in a role a whole EXTRA year than an able-bodied person.

People with a disability are a hinderance to the workplace.

The social model of disability suggests that people are more disabled by the environmental and social barriers placed by society rather than their bodies. I think this is something we should keep in mind, not just in workplaces, but in all areas of society. It does not take much to accommodate people with a disability and if you believe in an equal society for all, then…

Some might argue it will cost employers more to hire people with a disability, especially if they have to install modifications. In actual fact, recruitment costs are actually lower for employers hiring people with a disability (according to While this shouldn’t be the case, for now, wages are lower for people with a disability; according to an article in the Guardian by Frances Ryan, the pay gap between people with a disability and able-bodied people is 13.6%. Like we said earlier, productivity of people with a disability is either equal to or higher than able-bodied people which means they are great for business. PLUS, by employing people with a disability you will improve your general public image by being an inclusive and equal opportunity workplace. Modifications of the workplace for people with a disability is a small price to pay compared to the long-term benefits.

While my experience of the workforce is next to none, the fear of unemployment is real and justified, and people wonder why those with a disability are living on Centrelink benefits. I hope that by the time I finish Uni, things will have changed for the better because the evidence for employing people with a disability is pretty clear. Things do need to change and everyone in the economy will be better off for it!

Claudia Forsberg is a Melbourne based writer and journalist. She is currently working as a Regional Trainee with ABC Ballarat.


  1. Therose

    This is disheartening that things are like this. I had to volunteer before getting each of my long-term jobs. I regret not volunteering more when I was a student and could afford to take the time. I regret not getting more of a variety of professional experiences because I’m paying for it now. I have a job that is part-time. While it’s partially by choice, there are a lot of other factors to deal with like health insurance, financial stability, transportation etc. What it all goes back to is people’s misperceptions and that I am passed up for promotions and will remain stuck in my current role until I can get out of where I am. Now that I’ve been in the same field for over a decade, it’s twice as hard to switch careers. Thank you for sharing this important information.

    • Claudia Forsberg

      I completely empathise. Thanks for reaching out. Good luck with everything. x


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