08/12/2015 7:27 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Small Business Gets A Good Report Card On Caring For Customers And Staff With A Disability

Compassionate Eye Foundation/Dan Kenyon via Getty Images
Businessman in wheelchair, meeting in background

Australian small businesses have an overwhelmingly positive approach to employees and customers who have a disability according to a new survey, but experts suggest there is still a lack of understanding that could cost jobs and profit.

The inaugural Australian Disability Confidence Survey Report, launched by Australian Network on Disability (AND), questioned 500 Australians working in companies of between five and 200 employees.

It revealed 89 percent believe their organisation has a positive attitude to employing suitably skilled people with disability with one in three saying their organisation has employed people with disability.

Eighty percent believe they have customers with a disability and 53 percent of these say they have done something specific to assist customers with disability in the past year.

Education and training organisations led the way with assist these customers (73 percent) followed by hospitality businesses (71 percent) and healthcare organisations (65 per cent).

Suzanne Colbert, CEO of AND said this was encouraging, but there was still work to be done.

“The overwhelmingly positive attitude to both employees and customers with disability is extremely heartening but more action is needed,” she said.

“With more than 4 million Australians having a disability this is an important segment for businesses seeking to reach as many customers as possible, as well as those who want to recruit from the entire talent pool and ensure their employees reflect their customers.”

One in 5 Australians surveyed said they don’t think they have customers with disability but 60 percent of these have not proactively sought to find out. One in five also didn’t know if any other staff had a disability.

Colbert says many businesses may be missing out on a sale simply by not being aware of their customers’ needs, and people with disability are missing out on access to jobs, products and services.

However, 63 percent said they are likely to make changes in the next year to make it easier for customers with disability to do business with them.

Small business can increase their awareness of issues around disability with the Australian Access and Inclusion Index, which will be available in 2016. This will include a set of online tools and resources.

“We want organisations to be able to measure their performance in relation to others across and within sectors,” Colbert said. “By self-auditing we believe that Australian businesses will become more disability confident, which in turn will help create a society that is more inclusive of people with disability.”

Suzanne Colbert, third from the right, with representatives from government, corporate Australia and the media at the launch of the Australian Disability Confidence Survey Report.