Debunking myths about jobs and disabilities

| March 4, 2015

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.
This blog first appeared on First 5000 sister website Open Forum and is published here with the kind permission of the author.


Tom Baxter is the CEO of Ostara Australia. Mr Baxter’s career has included senior executive roles across the not-for-profit disability and commercial financial services sectors. Ostara Australia is a national not-for-profit organisation that works closely with the Australian Government, member organisations, communities and employers to place people disadvantaged through health, disability, age or cultural background into sustainable employment. Its approach is to address both the vocational and non-vocational barriers faced by disadvantaged job seekers. As such, Ostara Australia delivers personalised employment services working in collaboration with community and welfare organisations to help job seekers with any mental, cultural or emotional challenges.


One Comment

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    Helley Brown

    December 3, 2015 at 7:01 am

    I really like your post.
    I really like your post. Thanks a lot.