Do better! Two-thirds of small businesses fail at disability inclusion

- January 23, 2023 3 MIN READ


New research released by Mastercard has revealed that Australian small businesses have fallen behind the pack regarding disability inclusion in the workplace. Despite customers strongly indicating they are more likely to spend with businesses prioritising diversity and accessibility, only one-third of small businesses have implemented a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.

Australian consumers are demanding more from businesses in 2023, with most respondents (75 per cent) agreeing all companies should be accessible to people with a physical, mental, sensory or intellectual disability. Moreover, 55 per cent say they are more likely to shop with a business with a diverse workforce.

Seventy-six per cent believe that organisations could do more regarding work and career opportunities for people with physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities. And 68 per cent say they would pay more for products if they knew they were accessible for people with disabilities.

Small businesses not keeping up with disability inclusion

Yet, the research also reveals that small businesses are underperforming in these areas when compared to medium and large-sized businesses:

  • Only 33 per cent of small businesses have a DE&I strategy in place, compared to 67 per cent of medium businesses and 74 per cent of large corporations.
  • Just 42 per cent of small businesses say that their work premises are entirely accessible for workers with a disability, compared to 72 per cent of medium and 62 per cent of large companies.
  • Less than one in three (31 per cent) of small companies say that they have made significant changes to their work premises in the past 12 months to make it more accessible to people with a disability, compared to 67 per cent of medium and 56 per cent of large businesses.

While 92 per cent of small business leaders believe that increasing their diversity and inclusion in the workplace will positively benefit their company, the stats show small business is falling behind in the diversity and inclusion stakes. Only four in five (80 per cent) small companies believe that increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace will have positive benefits, compared with 98 per cent of medium and 97 per cent of large organisations.

Young woman with prosthetic arm working at desk on laptop

It paints a sorry picture for small businesses, indicating significant work to be done to match consumer expectations and ensure diversity and disability accessibility across the small business sector.

“Ensuring an accessible society for everyone is growing in importance as we hear from more diverse voices in our media and at incredible sporting events like the Australian Open,” said Richard Wormald, Division President, Australasia, Mastercard. “Technology and the digital environments we all interact with now have made the world more accessible than ever, and businesses must make the most of the opportunity. Creating touch-accessible products or sonic-accessible experiences must be on the agenda for 2023 and beyond.”

Disability inclusion: What small businesses can do better

In a recent article on Kochie’s Business Builders, disability advocate and educator Lisa Cox said it is “shocking” that the proportion of disabled people in the workforce has barely changed in decades.

“Having a disability doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of doing a job and doing it well,” she said. “The assumption that disability equals inability needs to stop.”

She urges business leaders to take urgent steps to prioritise disability inclusion, including ensuring pathways for development and promotion for people with disabilities.

“It’s not inclusive if the only people with disabilities in your company are those working in the lowest-paid positions,” she said. “People need to be able to see themselves throughout the business and, in turn, those in higher positions need to act as advocates for inclusion.”

The message is clear. Small businesses must pick up their accessibility and inclusion game to keep customers happy and ensure a strong brand reputation. Whether it’s hiring more people with disabilities in the workplace or ensuring their business and products are accessible to disabled customers, there’s plenty small businesses can do to be part of the change.

Lisa Cox has shared some great advice to help small business owners take steps towards disability inclusion – check out her tips here.

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