People with disability can bring a range of skills, talents, qualifications and abilities to your business, yet for many they also represent part of Australia’s untapped workforce.

Just under one in five Australians (18.5 per cent) reported having a disability in 2012, including 2.2 million people aged 15–64.

For businesses, there are a number of real benefits to hiring people with disability. They are reliable, in that they take fewer days off, take less sick leave and have a higher retention rate than other workers.

Employees with disability are also productive—in the right job, they perform equally as well as other employees.

Recruitment, insurance cover and compensation costs are also lower for people with disability, and they have fewer compensation incidents and accidents at work in comparison to other employees.

So what can you do to make sure you are attracting people with disability when you advertise a job, and what are some of the things you need to think about when hiring?

1. Focus on what you want to achieve, not how

From the time you sit down to write a first draft of your job description, think about the essential requirements for the job and what you want your new employee to achieve. Focus on the end result rather than how they’ll get there.

For instance, instead of ‘minimum typing speed of X’, you could say ‘produce quality reports/documents’. Instead of ‘excellent phone skills’, you could say ‘ability to establish strong customer relationships’. This will give your applicants some flexibility to show how they can help you get the business results you need.

It’s also tempting to get carried away with writing an impressive and technical-sounding list of selection criteria or to specify a raft of educational requirements, in the hope of attracting skilled applicants. Consider which of these you really need and which are nice to have, and make it clear in the job description (or ideally just cut out the fluff completely).

2. Make your information accessible

You’re less likely to attract a wide range of applicants to your role if not everyone can access your recruitment materials.

Make sure that documents like position descriptions, application forms and questionnaires are available in accessible formats. Microsoft Word has a built-in accessibility checker to make sure that people using screen readers can understand your documents, and there is plenty of information available online about how to publish your information in an accessible way.

Consider providing alternatives to written tests, and be flexible with the way that your applicants present the essential information. Also think about whether medical or aptitude tests are essential to the job requirements before you include them.

3. Think ahead of the interview

If an applicant discloses disability before the interview, ask them if they need any adjustments. Consider things like how they will find or enter the venue, and whether they require supports to be available at the interview, such as an Auslan interpreter. As with any potential employee, try to make the first meeting with your organisation professional, friendly and stress-free.

It’s also worth making a commitment to give every applicant with disability an interview. This will give them a real opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to do their job, beyond what was in the scope of the written application.

At the interview, only ask questions about the person’s disability if it’s for legitimate and non-discriminatory purposes, for example:

To determine whether they can perform inherent job requirements
To identify any reasonable adjustments that may be necessary during the recruitment process or to perform the job
To establish entitlements and obligations where disability may be relevant (such as superannuation, workers compensation, the use of sick leave or access to productivity-based wages).

Avoid questions that have negative assumptions or connotations or questions asking about the nature and origin of the disability. For instance, ask ‘Will you need any changes or adjustments to the workplace in order to perform your job?’ rather than ‘How would your disability affect your ability to carry out the job?’

4. Remember that not everyone will disclose disability

People with disability have a choice to disclose or not, and like everyone they also have the right for their personal information to be kept private.

There is no legal obligation for an employee to disclose disability unless it affects their ability to do the tasks that must be carried out to get the job done. In some cases disability may only become evident once the person is employed.

If someone does disclose, it’s important to treat them with respect and dignity and focus on the person, rather than the disability.

5. Encourage a flexible workplace

A flexible workplace allows you to think creatively and structure working lives to match individual and business needs. Having a flexible workplace will help you to attract a diverse workforce, including people with disability.

For example, an employee with disability could take medication that may have adverse effects on their work performance at particular times (that is, making them tired and lethargic). By offering flexible or part-time working hours, employees with disability can work when they are most productive. This will allow them to access the same working opportunities as other employees.

6. Make adjustments to the workplace, if you need to

If you employ a person with disability, it is important that you make any appropriate or reasonable adjustments to the work environment to accommodate them.

Most people with disability will not require any major adjustments to be made in the workplace and many will require no adjustment at all. In fact, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2012 that 10.3 per cent of employed people with disability required some type of special work arrangement such as being provided with special equipment or being allocated different duties.

People who do require adjustments will generally tell you what will be effective for them; but you may also need to ask, in a legitimate and non-discriminatory way.

If you do need to make reasonable adjustments, this might include changes to work practices, alterations to facilities or access to specific aids or equipment—such as adjustments to work arrangements to accommodate breaks, providing an adjustable height desk for a person using a wheelchair or arranging access to a telephone typewriter (TTY) for an employee who is Deaf, has hearing loss or has difficulty with speech.

You should also look at your worksite for accessibility issues or potential hazards. An accessible organisation offers equal access to things like buildings, meetings, interviews, teleconferences, websites, systems, information and learning and development resources.

7. Make the most of free services and financial assistance

There are plenty of services that can help you employ and retain people with disability, and they won’t cost your business anything.

The Employment Assistance Fund provides financial help for suitable equipment and workplace adjustments. This could include a range of things like ramps, handrails, sound reduction devices, visual and audible fire alarms, accessible technology or ergonomic and specialist equipment.

It also offers free workplace assessments to help employers and people with disability achieve an accessible workplace.

JobAccess is a free information and advice service that gives you access to information about services, financial assistance and workplace solutions. JobAccess can give you information about reasonable adjustments, disclosure of disability, disability employment case studies, tools and checklists. Visit the JobAccess website or call a JobAccess advisor on 1800 464 800.

JobAccess can also connect you with government services to help you recruit people with disability, such as the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator, which can help larger organisations, or Disability Employment Services, which provides help and support such as professional recruitment advice and provision of on the job training.

8. Keep an open mind

This seems like an obvious one, but it’s also very important.

Be flexible in the way that you think about skills and capacity—look beyond disability and look at what the individual brings to the workplace.

The International Day of People with Disability takes place each year on 3 December. The day celebrates progress in breaking down barriers, opening doors, and realising an inclusive society for all.