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Managing people

Supporting diversity: employees with a disability

In Australia, many employees are living with a disability as part of their daily life. By providing the right support, employers can instil inclusive workplace practices and enhance diversity. 

5 March 2024

According to the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992, employers need to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for workers with a disability. However, many organisations aren’t aware of the obligations and, as a result, risk discriminating against employees who have a disability.  At the same time, some organisations are frightened and think they’re opening a can of worms, but often it’s just about making adjustments they may one day use themselves.

Accessibility isn’t just about people with disability, it’s about everyone in your workforce having the right environment to work at their peak performance. Here’s how your organisation may be able to improve inclusion and support in the workplace.

An overview of disability diversity in the workplace

Disability affects a significant portion of our workforce in Australia:

  • over 4 million people in Australia have some form of disability with 2.1 million within the working age (15-64 years) and the number is increasing
  • around 1 in 5 Australians experience mental health related conditions 
  • 1 in 6 Australians are affected by hearing loss and it’s estimated 357,000 are blind or have low vision
  • JobAccess has assisted more than 360,000 people with disability and employers with advice and support with 94% of employees saying they were more productive post implementation. 

People with disability can experience issues or challenges at work because of the way the workplace is designed. Workers with visual impairments may experience difficulties with smaller screens, while those with physical disabilities may need alternative accessibility options. In many cases, these barriers can be overcome by making some changes in the workplace: a term known as “reasonable adjustments”.

What reasonable adjustments should you make?

All employees deserve to be treated individually.  You should make adjustments in the workplace to ensure equal access and opportunity for workers with a disability at every stage of their journey, including:

During the recruitment process, candidates should be asked if they require any adjustments to help complete recruitment activities. This can include providing accessible testing facilities or alternative testing facilities, or more assessment time for those with a visual impairment. In taking such steps, you are providing an equal opportunity for employment for all potential workers.

As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring you’re meeting the needs of employees. It’s essential to discuss and assess each employee’s situation – ask what support they need. Reasonable adjustments can include allowing flexible work schedules for doctor’s appointments or providing ramps for better access. Adjustments can also include training on disability diversity in the workplace for other employees.

Adaptive technologies are support tools workers can use to carry out their tasks. You should provide workers with supportive technology, such as voice-activated software or the opportunity to use accessible text formats. With technology evolving at a rapid rate, it's good practice to periodically explore new tools or features that become available. 

Whether it’s yourself, an HR representative or someone in legal, the representative should be trained in reasonable adjustment requirements and accessibility guidelines. They can be a champion in your organisation, and work to promote diversity and accessibility in your workplace.

In addition, your organisation should provide equal opportunity for workers with a disability, and cannot terminate or demote employees because of a disability. All employees have the right to enjoy a workplace without discrimination or harassment.  

What if my organisation fails to make reasonable adjustments?

There are two scenarios if an organisation doesn’t meet the needs of an employee who has a disability in the workplace:

  • Allegation of discrimination: An employee can approach the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) if they feel their workplace hasn’t provided reasonable adjustments. The AHRC investigates if there are breaches and pending the outcome, you may have to make adjustments and also pay compensation.

  • Unjustifiable hardship: In this case, you need to prove that making an adjustment would be too time-consuming, expensive, or difficult to implement. However, this again would be determined by the AHRC.

Where can I go for more support?

You may want to provide more opportunities and support for workers with a disability, but it’s hard to know where to begin. The good news is there are tools and services to help employers with financial and organisational assistance, including:

In addition, JobAccess Employers is a dedicated hub funded by the Australian Government to support you to employ people with a disability.  They offer a free workplace assessment so there's no guess work on your behalf. You can also access information on the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, subsidies and support, training and resources – everything you need to know to help lift barriers, provide an inclusive workplace and enhance diversity.

Do you need the latest policies and resources at your fingertips? My Business Workplace has more than 170 documents ready to download. 

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