The What and Why of Disability Employment Services

Gesture Hand Stop and disabled in a wheelchair looking for a job.

Disability employment services are programs and initiatives designed to support individuals with disabilities in finding and maintaining employment. These services often include job training, skill development, job placement assistance, workplace accommodations, and ongoing support to help individuals with disabilities succeed in the workforce. They aim to reduce barriers to employment and promote inclusivity and equal opportunities in the workplace. According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2018 the unemployment rate for  people with disability is 10.3%. This figure varies depending on the type and severity of disability.

A cartoon of three people brainstorming with a cloud of spinning cogs above them.


In Australia, the history of disability employment services dates back to the early 20th century, with efforts to provide vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities. However, significant developments in disability employment services occurred in the latter half of the 20th century.

One milestone was the establishment of Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services in 1948, which aimed to provide vocational training and rehabilitation for people with disabilities, including war veterans. Over time, the focus shifted towards providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

In 1983, the Australian Government introduced the Supported Wage System (SWS) as part of its disability employment services. The SWS aimed to provide wage subsidies to employers who hired people with disabilities who were unable to work at full award wages due to productivity impairments.

The 1990s saw further reforms with the Disability Services Act 1993, which aimed to improve the quality of disability services and promote the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities. This legislation paved the way for the development of Disability Employment Services (DES) as we know them today.


In 2004, the Australian Government introduced the Disability Services Act 1986, which established a framework for the provision of disability employment services. This included the introduction of the Disability Employment Services (DES) program, which provides employment assistance, training, and support for people with disabilities who are seeking work.

Since then, there have been ongoing efforts to improve and expand disability employment services in Australia. This includes reforms to the DES program to better meet the needs of job seekers with disabilities and employers, as well as initiatives to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce and broader community.


Photo of 100 dollar notes


In Australia, disability employment services are primarily funded by the Australian Government. The funding is allocated through various government departments and agencies, including the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE).

The funding is used to support a range of disability employment programs and initiatives, including the Disability Employment Services (DES) program, which provides employment assistance, training, and support for people with disabilities seeking work.


Additionally, some disability employment services may receive funding from state and territory governments, as well as through partnerships with non-profit organizations, community groups, and private sector employers. These additional sources of funding may support specific programs or services tailored to the needs of particular regions or communities.

Emblems of people with disability and normal peo0le.

Is it useful?

Assessing the effectiveness of disability employment services in Australia involves considering various factors such as employment outcomes, participant satisfaction, and overall impact on individuals with disabilities and the broader community.

Research and evaluations have indicated positive outcomes from disability employment services in Australia. For example, studies have shown that participants in the Disability Employment Services (DES) program have higher rates of employment compared to those who do not access such services. Additionally, participants often report increased confidence, skill development, and improved social inclusion as a result of their participation in these programs.


However, challenges remain, including the need to address barriers to employment such as discrimination, inaccessible workplaces, and limited job opportunities. Efforts are ongoing to improve the effectiveness of disability employment services through reforms, innovations, and collaboration between government, employers, service providers, and advocacy organizations.

A man and woman brain storming.


Overall, while there is evidence of the effectiveness of disability employment services in Australia, there is also recognition of the need for continued efforts to enhance accessibility, inclusivity, and support for individuals with disabilities in the workforce.