Why your business should be using disability support services

Phil Hayes-Brown, inspired by his daughter who lives with a moderate intellectual impairment, is the CEO of Wallara Australia.

Wallara Australia is a nonprofit organisation that works with 500 adults with various abilities, helping them achieve their fullest potential. Phil has a rich background as a commercial lawyer and sports marketer, including 13 years in the NBA and AFL. He uses his experience to engage the mainstream community through innovative partnerships and educational platforms to drive social change.

Phil’s goal is to reshape the conversation around disabilities, emphasising what people with disabilities can do rather than what they can’t. He employs people with disability at Wallara Australia, primarily in the hospitality, warehousing and land management services space.

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Phil Hayes-Brown on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored by Phil Hayes-Brown, CEO of Wallara Australia.

Every day we hear how important diversity and inclusion in the workplace are. Having moved from the glamorous world of sports marketing to the disability support services sector, I’ve seen firsthand how powerful inclusion can be. There are incredible advantages that come from hiring and collaborating with people from the disability community. This isn’t just about fulfilling a duty to society. It’s about discovering untapped potential that can spark growth, innovation, and a sense of purpose in your business. Let me share with you why I passionately believe that small to medium businesses, especially, can benefit from working with disability support services.

Finding true purpose

I spent 12 glorious years promoting the NBA, surrounded by the excitement of sports, events, and yes, the undeniable allure of working with high-profile athletes. It was a fun and glamorous gig. But, after a while, I started feeling a bit disconnected. The realisation hit me – these athletes, as much as I admired them, didn’t really need my help. I was craving a purpose that felt more impactful on a personal level.

This search for meaning led me to the disability sector, a move that was largely made by my personal connection to the community through my daughter. Phoebe, who is now already 21, was born with a mild to moderate intellectual disability and is non-verbal. At first, I was pretty clueless about what I could bring to the table at Wallara Australia. I spent a lot of time visiting different places, asking heaps of questions like, “How do you do what you do?” and “What can I do to help?” Slowly but surely, I started to see the big picture. What started as a search for meaning quickly transformed into a passionate commitment to making a real difference in people’s lives.

All of us, not just business owners, search for purpose in what we do. That’s what drives us at the end of the day. Many people think about changing careers for something more meaningful but hesitate because they fear the unknown. The best way to overcome this fear is to dive in headfirst and ask a lot of questions.

If you run a business, consider how you can find meaning in it. Perhaps, you can take a look at your team or supply chain and ask yourself, “How can I make it more inclusive?.” There are numerous ways to collaborate with community organisations, whether they focus on disability, Indigenous communities, or other groups. I encourage you to explore these possibilities, open your doors to diversity, and learn about the benefits of inclusivity.

A wealth of untapped talent

The disability sector is home to a huge pool of talented, eager individuals looking for opportunities to prove their capabilities. From logistics and IT to creative arts and media, people with disabilities bring diverse skills and unique perspectives to the table.

In Australia, about 18% of the population has some form of disability. That’s one in five people! If we look at how many of those people have a disability that has a profound or severe restriction on their life, it’s about 1.4 million people! And yet, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is only able to support about 600,000 of them. That means there’s a huge number of people out there with valuable talents that could greatly benefit your business.

You’d be surprised how many large companies are already benefiting from working with disability services. Almost 20,000 people in Australia are in supported employment through these services. Many of these individuals play a crucial role in producing and packaging thousands of products we use daily, most of which go unnoticed by the general public. If you walk down the aisle of Bunnings, Coles or Woolworths, you will see thousands of products on those shelves that are made, packaged or delivered by an adult with a disability. This was a huge revelation to me when I entered this sector. I realised how important it is to raise awareness and recognise the contributions people with disabilities are making to our everyday lives, to start changing the stigma against hiring them.

How inclusive hiring benefits your business

If you run a small to medium business, you’ll want to start following the footsteps of these large companies. Getting involved with disability support services isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s a smart move for your business. Here’s why:

Driving innovation

Diversity fuels creativity. Studies have shown that companies prioritising diversity and inclusion are more likely to report growth and innovation. By integrating employees with disabilities into your team, you’re not just bringing on help, you’re inviting new ways of thinking and solving problems. This can lead to innovative solutions that appeal to a wider audience and set your business apart in a competitive market.

Enriching company culture

When I started working with the disability community, the first thing I noticed was how different the workplace culture was. We were a team, a community that shared a common goal of making a tangible difference. And the great thing was, we saw this enriched culture rub off on our clients as well. A culture of inclusivity naturally fosters a more supportive, collaborative work environment. When employees see their company making a genuine effort to be inclusive, it can improve morale and employee satisfaction, reducing turnover and building a stronger, more unified team.

Broadening opportunities

Working with individuals with disabilities opened my eyes to the untapped potential that lies within this vibrant community. We’ve helped people get into landscaping, IT support, videography, construction, e-commerce and more. The skills and dedication I’ve seen are nothing short of inspiring. For businesses, this means there are more opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and growth.

Enhancing your brand

Today’s consumers are more socially conscious than ever. They care about the values of the businesses they purchase from. Showing a genuine commitment to inclusivity and social responsibility can significantly enhance your brand’s reputation. This can lead to increased customer loyalty, a stronger brand image, and even attract top talent who want to work for a company with meaningful principles.

Embracing the change

I understand that change can be daunting, and misconceptions about disability can be a barrier. But here’s my advice, from one business owner to another:

Start small and learn

Start with manageable steps, like offering internships or part-time roles to individuals with disabilities. This allows both your team and the new members to adapt gradually and learn from one another. You could also use this as an opportunity to identify adjustments you might need to make to your workplace to accommodate a more diverse workforce

Educate your team

Preparation is key. Educating your team about disability awareness and the benefits of a diverse workplace can help change any potential myths, biases or stigmas into a welcoming and supportive culture. Providing training on how to communicate effectively with people of various abilities. This will help create a welcoming environment for new hires. Remember to highlight the practical benefits of a diverse workforce, such as increased innovation and a broader understanding of customer needs. This preparation will ensure a smooth transition for new employees and improve the existing team’s professional and personal growth – a win-win!

Build relationships with disability services

Disability support services can do more than just find your employees. These organisations can offer guidance on creating an accessible and inclusive workplace, provide training for your team, and connect you with talented candidates. Build a relationship with the workers of these services. This will keep you informed about best practices in inclusivity and give you someone to turn to when challenges come up. Not to mention, meaningful partnerships like this can enhance your business’s reputation in the community, showing a committed effort to support and uplift individuals with disabilities.

Focus on abilities, not disabilities

Concentrate on what individuals can do, not what they can’t. People with disabilities bring a range of amazing skills and abilities that can be incredibly valuable to your business. By focusing on these strengths, you can find the perfect fit for your needs while supporting a more inclusive and diverse workforce.

Be open to learning

Every day is a learning opportunity. Embrace the unique perspectives and solutions that individuals with disabilities bring to the table. You’ll be surprised at the innovation and efficiency they can bring to your team.

Reflecting on my journey, the switch from the high-flying world of sports commercial operations to the disability support sector might seem drastic to some. But for me, it was a return to what truly matters: making a meaningful impact. For small and medium-sized businesses looking to enrich their culture, broaden their horizons, and truly make a difference, I can’t recommend enough the value of embracing disability support services. It’s been a game-changer for me, both personally and professionally, and I believe it can be for you too.