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The Disability Royal Commission: What is it and how does it link to employment?

As a person with a disability, it can be extremely difficult navigating the world that is open employment. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), the many barriers people with disabilities encounter while trying to find and maintain stable employment have not reduced for two decades, with employment rates of people with disabilities remaining unchanged. This is despite recent initiatives including the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the establishment of disability employment service providers, and Australia becoming a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Despite an increasing societal emphasis on diversity and inclusion, people with disabilities continue to be heavily discriminated against. The 2019-2020 Australian Human Rights Commission Annual Report, it notes that under the Disability Discrimination Act, there have been approximately 298 complaints related to employment. In comparison, there have been 341 complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act in relation to employment. Even in the age of the #MeToo era where people are finally feeling supported enough to speak up and report workplace discrimination issues, the human rights breaches of people with disabilities in the workforce likely remain underreported.

The Disability Royal Commission (DRC) was established in 2019 to deal with the abuses of human rights faced by people with disabilities, especially in terms of exploitation. Currently, there have been 15 public hearings highlighting areas of concern, not limited to employment and education. In relation to employment, some of the key issues faced by people with disabilities were noted as employer attitudes, physical barriers, and accessing work that utilises their skill sets.

In December 2020, there was a public hearing in relation to the employment of people with disabilities. This hearing took into consideration the experiences of people with disabilities, their advocates, and academics. During this hearing, it was noted that when diversity is being discussed in relation to employment, disability is often rated as the area of least importance.

So, where to from here? Later this year, between the 23rd and 27th of August, the DRC will host a public hearing in Melbourne (with the option of it being conducted online) about the measures adopted by employers and regulating authorities in response to the systemic barriers faced by people with disabilities.

The DRC will produce a final report to the government about recommended changes by the 29th of September 2023. In the meantime, watch this space for more information about the findings from the DRC about the barriers faced by people with disabilities in employment, as well as what they say needs to happen to improve employment opportunities.

Karen Ansen Consulting provides services relating to diversity and inclusion within the workplace. If you would like to get in touch with us, give us a call or email at

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