‘I may be physically different, but it’s society that disables me’: On youth employment, housing and disability

On young people, disability and employment

‘I may be physically different, but it’s society that disables me’: On youth employment, housing and disability

Transitions to adulthood are tough to achieve on their own. Simply becoming financially independent can be challenging for the average young person. Many young people struggle to secure enough work week to week, manage work/life balance and take the steps towards milestones like buying a house, or even just moving out of home. This is especially so in a climate where work is increasingly precarious, housing unaffordable, and cost of living raising alongside wage stagnation.


In 2018, this experience is compounded by higher rates of mental health issues among young people, and an unpredictable future of work.


But add in a disability and the picture looks a lot different. It’s evident, both statistically and in lived experience, that young people with disability do not enjoy employment or transitions to employment equally with those who don’t have a disability, and this is something that needs to change.


Labour market participation and disability:


According to a Human Rights Commission 2016 report, employment rates of people with disability has changed very little over the last two decades with the current rate sitting at approximately 53.4%.


Unemployment remains almost double the national rate with 10% of people with disability being unemployed, compared with 5.4% Australia-wide. Meaning people with disability are twice as likely to be unemployed.


The report also found that 20.5% of young people (aged 15-24) with disability reported experiencing discrimination. For people with disability aged 15-64, a major source of discrimination has been identified as employers, and the frequency of this experience is cited almost equally between those working full-time (46.2%) and those who are unemployed (46.9%), indicating that discrimination doesn’t stop once a person with disability is hired.


Young people with disability are also likely to take 7 years to transition to employment after study. They are also likely to experience long term unemployment at 13%, compared with 7% of young people without disability.


32.4% of people with disability that are working part-time want more hours. This highlights a large proportion of people with disability that are underemployed. People with disability are also likely to spend a longer amount of time looking for work than those who don’t have a disability.

Depending on the type of disability, employment rates may differ. It is reported that those with ‘psychological disability’ have the lowest levels of employment, at 29%.


These lower levels of underemployment and unemployment can result in a significant proportion of people with disability in Australia living in poverty. According to the OECD, Australia has one of the highest poverty rates for people with disability.


Housing accessibility:


Income security and employment play a huge role in our experience of the housing market. Not only does a stable source of income place you in a better position to secure a lease or a home loan, it’s also the means to secure the small things we take for granted, like our ability to hire a rental truck on moving day or pay for new services connections.


The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute has reported that 80,000 to 120,000 National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants cannot find affordable housing that also fits specific accessibility requirements. Accordingly, the report argues the housing market is failing to provide the much needed housing for people with disability.


Another recent report from Choice Australia, National Shelter and the National Association of Tenant Organisations (NATO) found that people with disability have a worse time renting than those without disability. 16% of people with disability have been served with a ‘without grounds’ eviction, compared to 9% for the rest of renters. 92% of people with disability renting express concern about the stress caused by the effort needed to move, compared with 82% for the renters without disability.  

The report also found many other issues people with disability face in renting and housing security. These include challenges getting timely repairs to property; incurring additional costs for moving that those without disability wouldn’t necessarily face; and that people with disability are almost 2.5 times more likely to experience issues with home inspections from their landlord or real estate than renters without disability.


Placing this in the context of a young person trying to make standard transitions to adulthood milestones like completing education, getting into the workforce and moving out of home while becoming financially independent, highlights a significant issue for young people with disability to achieve the same things as others.


This begs the question of whether young people with disability ought to expect that they can achieve the same things as young people without disability in Australia?


The rights of young people with disability:


Speaking with Ariane (26 years old) and Danny (20 years old), who both live with disability and also engage in work and education, they were able to highlight the problems with the assumption that they cannot do the same things other young people are expected to do in their lives.


“A major point for both [education and employment] is discrimination… some people think hiring a person with a disability is just going to be too difficult. This means there are all sorts of jobs that I don’t even bother applying for. Because of in-built prejudices and not enough education, I know that I’m immediately not going to get hired for that position,” Ariane says.


“Even though I’ve studied media, to get a job in television I know you have to start from the bottom position of being a runner, getting people coffees and stuff. But because I only use one hand, I’m not necessarily that physically capable in that way. So I can’t really go for those sorts of jobs.”


Ariane believes that most of the time employers don’t even realise they are discriminating against someone with a disability. She says it’s simply because they haven’t been educated in the right way to help them understand that people with disability have the same capabilities but will just need to do tasks in a different way.


“Education needs to begin at primary school level… little kids are the most accepting people you’ll ever meet.”


“If you start that education there, then that understanding filters through to high school, and then to university and TAFE, so that eventually with the people that employ you those prejudices will go away,” Ariane explains.


On finding his first job, Danny explains that even the most basic entry-level positions most young people start their working lives with aren’t accessible to him.


“As someone with a disability it’s been tough trying to get part-time jobs in the past from [places like] the local McDonalds and it was only when my father decided to give me a job with his own company that I was actually able to get paid work.”


“I feel like [having a disability] it affects my chances in getting work. I’m not sure people understand that yes, I may have a disability but you can believe I can still do the job that is required of me,” Danny explains.


Danny says education has also been a hard place for him, and that he wasn’t able to access the support he needed to thrive.


“In my first high school I barely got the support I needed and it didn’t feel like the staff understood me enough to give me the best education possible.”


“I want everyone to have the same chances as everyone else, but people have biases and prejudices that can affect their judgements,” he says.  


On the kind of national response or investment they want to see, Ariane believes for now employers need to be incentivised to hire more people with disability in order to overcome the ‘too hard basket’ mindset she sees in many companies and hirers.  


“It eats away at me every day, that this is still a thing we have to cope with and deal with every day of our lives. We already deal with enough, we shouldn’t have to deal with in-built prejudice from society,” Ariane says.  


“I may have trouble doing things physically, but I am disabled by society’s ideals. If people had more of an understanding about what people with disabilities go through, we would be more capable of getting out there are doing something.”