© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2022

Disabled people continue to be under-represented in the workplace

Melania Watson
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Brooke Larman  Melania Watson

People with disabilities are finding it hard to get employed due to their disabilities holding them back from job placement.

Twenty-five-year-old Brooke Larman has been in a wheelchair since she was born due to the nerves in her spine affecting her ability to walk. She has never found employment an easy thing. 

“It’s pretty unfair for those with disabilities who are willing to work, knowing that there aren’t the options available for us as there are for able-bodied people.” 

Larman has hopes to one day work as a receptionist at the Christchurch City Hospital but finds that approaching the interview process is often what pushes her away, due to fear of rejection. 

“I am wanting to get into work but if I go for an interview and they turn me down, I can't help but ask myself... are they turning me down because I am disabled, or am I just not experienced enough?” Larman said. 

Dr Claire Bretherton, Stats New Zealand's wellbeing and housing statistics manager has been collecting disability data since 2017 and has noticed a significant increase in recent unemployment rates. 

“People with disabilities are very much under-represented in the workplace, and there continue to be gaps between disabled and non-disabled people in New Zealand in terms of working lives.” 

Bretherton is disappointed in the stat results, finding the comparison between non-disabled and disabled peoples employment rates so different.

“Less than half of disabled people under the age of 65 are working," Bretherton said. 

NZ Stats collection of data has been ongoing for six years, and they’ve continued to see rates get worse overtime. 

“We’ve been collecting data on the labour market results of people with disabilities since 2017. In that time, there has not been a significant improvement in the employment gap,” Bretherton said.  

Louise Johnson, the manager of the Jobconnect Supported Employment Service at Comcare has worked in the service for 20 years and finds it upsetting that people with disabilities are continuing to be undermined in the workplace, when she can see just how much they have to offer. 

“By the time most people with disabilities get to working age which could be 16 or 18, they’ve had a lifetime of dealing with their disability, and probably know exactly what they need to do to manage the situation, and if they’ve applied for a job, they would’ve already thought about how they are going to manage that disability,” Johnson said.

When it comes to workplaces declining disabled people for work, their reasoning is often that they don't have the time to put aside extra training and support. 

Johnson disagrees with these views, as it isn't entirely factual information that those with disabilities are harder to train for a job role than non-disabled people.

“People with disabilities usually have access to special equipment and support, funded by the government, which means most of those logistical difficulties in the workplace can be overcome by accessing that support and support funds,” Johnson claims.

Johnson hopes to see an improvement in employers giving those with disabilities a chance to thrive in the workplace.