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Celebrating International Day of People with Disability

How Australia can pave the way for a more diverse STEM sector

December 3rd is International Day of People with Disability. People with disability still face barriers to study and have a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) [1]. In Australia, Over 4.4 million people in Australia have some form of disability. That’s 1 in 5 people [2].

As a nation, we only stand to gain from the inclusion of people with disability in STEM. STEM is only as innovative as its people are diverseWhen innovation is led by a narrow group of people who have a particular worldview and a particular set of experiences, the end product doesn’t serve the people who are going to use it. For that reason, we must diversify.” said the Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith. 

Participation rates of people with disability in the workforce are lower than people without disability. Of 2.1 million Australians of working age with disability, just under half were employed (47.8%), compared with 80.3% of people without disability. [2]

Moreover, once in the workforce, workers with disability experience the highest rates of workplace discrimination and harassment of any demographic group; almost one in two (48%) according to the Diversity Council of Australia’s Inclusion@Work Index. [3]

Ensuring full economic access to STEM jobs for persons with disabilities 

Over the next three years to May 2024, it is projected that STEM occupations will grow by 11.6 per cent in comparison to all other jobs, which are projected to grow at 7.5 per cent. 

By 2030, Australian workers will spend 77 per cent more time using science and mathematics skills. 

“If people with disability remain underrepresented in STEM education and careers, Australia will face challenges reaching its full STEM employment potential. Underrepresented groups feel a diminished sense of belonging and tend to leave STEM careers at higher rates. It’s up to organisations to create environments where people with disability can thrive.” said Harvey-Smith. 

Future You, our Commonwealth-funded initiative for children 8-12 and their families, raises awareness of the diverse people working in STEM. It showcases STEM as careers filled with diverse professionals by providing role models, including those with disability. 

“In the pilot Future You campaign, Grace the game designer and Frankie the farmer were two of the children’s favourite characters, as shown by the engagement numbers. Children identify with those characters. If key influencers, like parents, carers and educators present role models  like Frankie and Grace to children, they’ll be paving the way for a more diverse STEM sector.” said Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith.



Meet Frankie and Grace: Watch their animations


What can I do?

The benefits of inclusive workplaces, and of diversity in STEM, are widely recognised. [4] Find resources and support for schools and STEM workplaces to remove the barriers to inclusion of people with disability.

Celebrate the day

Check out the event calendar on the official website for International Day of People with Disability 

Make your workplace inclusive

IncludeAbility’s Resources for employers: increase your disability confidence with free, easy-to-use guides and make your recruitment processes, events and communications accessible and inclusive for everyone.

Australian Network on Disability: support for Australian workplaces to provide an accessible and inclusive workplace 

Academia’s ableist mindset: people with disabilities working in STEM share their experiences and share ways STEM workplaces can change for better inclusion 

How STEM employers can be more inclusive to staff with disabilities, by Careers with STEM

Make your classroom inclusive

The Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training: resources to make STEM accessible in the classroom  

7 easy STEM activities for students with developmental disabilities, by Careers with STEM 

Supporting students with disability in science 7–10: NSW Education Authority Standards 

National Science Week Disability Inclusion Guide: an accessibility guide for inclusive STEM events 


  1. Careers Research & Advisory Centre (CRAC) (2020).Qualitative research on barriers to progression of disabled scientists. Available at 

  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016, 4430.0. Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2015

  3. Diversity Council of Australia, Inclusion@Work index. Available at
  4. Hoftsra B, Kulkarni V,  Munoz Najar Galvez S et al. (2020). The Diversity-Innovation paradox in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 9284, 117(17).