Healthcare employers can improve in hiring people with disability, new report shows

Neelima Choahan

22/08/2018 11:47:49 AM

Almost half of Australian businesses in healthcare, social care and education service industries may be missing a pool of talent by overlooking candidates with disability.

Dr Dinesh Palipana says employers should not focus on what people can’t do, but rather on what they can do.
Dr Dinesh Palipana says employers should not focus on what people can’t do, but rather on what they can do.

Dr Dinesh Palipana’s car had started toppling, nose to tail.
It was a wet Sunday night and the then-25-year-old medical student was returning to Southport after visiting his parents in Brisbane when his car went off the road.
‘It rolled … and then when it landed I couldn’t move my legs, couldn’t move my fingers, I couldn’t feel my legs either,’ Dr Palipana told newsGP.
‘I knew instantly the gravity of what had happened.’
Dr Palipana had suffered spinal cord injuries and was eventually diagnosed with quadriplegia.
‘[My career] was one of the first thing that I was thinking about,’ he said.
‘When the ambulance came there was an emergency physician that had given us a lecture a short while before that, and one of the first thing I asked him was, “What will happen in the medical school? Do you think I will be able to [finish]?”’
A new Department of Social Services research into employers’ attitudes and barriers towards hiring people with disability shows that only 58% of Australian employers are currently employing someone with a disability.
Employers in the social, education and healthcare services are among the least likely to attach risk to hiring with disability.
The Building Employer Demand Research report, which surveyed 1200 employers, also shows that just 45% of employers in the healthcare, social care and education service industries thought their business was equipped to employ someone with a disability, and 38% believed employing someone with a disability is a step into the unknown. 
Associate Professor Bob Davis, Chair of the RACGP’s Disability Specific Interests network, told newsGP small general practices often face greater challenges than larger employers like hospitals in accommodating employees with a disability.

Dr-Bob-Davis-Article.jpgAssociate Professor Bob Davis says healthcare employers are in a position to show leadership when it comes to hiring people with disability.
However, he said health practitioners have a better understanding of disability and ‘hopefully’ an attitude that would support people with disability working in their practice.
‘As a group that deals with this population, we need to show some leadership in the community,’ Associate Professor Davis said.
But, he said, employers need support based on the type of disability of their employee.
‘There are broad range of disabilities,’ Associate Professor Davis said. ‘You are talking about people who may have mental health issues, people who might have a physical, mobility issues, people who may have sensory problem like blindness or deafness.
‘Sometimes it will simply be making the people around them aware that they have that disability or it might be that they need to have special alterations in place to make their physical environment, their workplace accessible to them.’
Jane Prentice, the Federal Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services, said most employers recognise the value that people with disability bring to the workforce; however, many remain unsure about what is involved in the disability employment process at a practical level. 
She said 83% of businesses in the healthcare, social care and education service industries believe it is important for their workplace to reflect the diversity in the community by including people with disability.
‘When considering the things that mattered to them, 76% said equal work opportunities for people with disability was an issue that was personally important to them,’ Ms Prentice said. 
‘But the research tells us these businesses want more help to transition from “willing” to “hiring”.’
Five years after his accident, Dr Palipana went back to Griffith University on the Gold Coast to finish his medical degree.
‘After the accident I did a lot better,’ he said. ‘I got the Clinical SubDean prize for Excellence when I graduated … in 2016.’
Dr Palipana also completed a term in radiology at Harvard University and received a distinction with Honours, but getting a job meant clearing more hurdles.
All of his classmates secured positions as interns, but his application got delayed because of his injuries.
According to the Department of Social Services report, 53.4% of the 2.1 million Australians aged between 15–64 years who identify as having a disability are actively seeking work or already in employment, compared to 83% of Australians without a disability.
Ms Prentice said a range of supports is available to employers via the JobAccess website to help them through the process.
‘Through JobAccess, employers can access practical advice and resources on all aspects of disability employment – from recruitment assistance, staff training and financial support, to workplace modifications, and tips for creating flexible work environments,’ she said.
Dr Palipana, who is also a co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, a body advocating for an inclusive profession, said his own experience has helped him better relate to patients.
‘Sometimes you get a distressed patient … and I often think back to how I was feeling when I was in the hospital,’ he said. ‘You have this sense of disempowerment and everything is out of control and you are just at the mercy of the system.
‘I often think back to that and try to anchor my interaction to that memory. I found that nine times out of 10 that’s really made a difference in the outcome.’


Now working as a junior doctor at the Gold Coast University Hospital, the 33-year-old said employers should focus on the employees’ ability rather than their injury.
‘There are so many times where I felt that my spinal cord was put at the forefront rather than any merit that I earned,’ he said.
‘I tried really hard to be the best that I can be to this point, but sometimes that hasn’t meant anything. Rather, the spinal cord injury comes at the forefront.
‘People should just start to consider what people can do rather than what people can’t do, and just consider them on their merit rather than physical attributes.’

disability doctors with disabilities Gold Coast University Hospital JobAccess

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Dr Meera Joshi FRACGP   24/08/2018 1:37:09 PM

Great to see this article which excites me ,yes we need to employ people with disability -Always we needs to think their ability which might surprise .I deal with disability every day life in General practice I love to be involved in this area many of my pt whom I work with are in full time employment .It is very exciting news today I read.