Managing people

Supporting employees with disabilities in the workplace

In Australia, many employees are living with some sort of disability as part of their daily life — and it’s important for employers to support them in the workplace. 

According to the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992, employers need to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for disabled workers. However, many organisations aren’t aware of their obligations and, as a result, they risk discriminating against their employees who have a disability of some kind.

From accessibility for workers with disability to support for visual or hearing impairments, here’s how your organisation can better support disability in the workplace.


An overview of disability diversity in the workplace

Disability is part of the workplace and affects a significant portion of our workforce in Australia:

  • around 1 in 5 Australians experience some form of mental disorder

  • 2% of the population have an intellectual impairment

  • over 2.6 million Australians have some sort of physical disability

  • more than 1 million Australians have a hearing impairment, and 300,000 have a visual impairment.

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 if the employer makes some changes to the workplace: a term known as “reasonable adjustments”.

What reasonable adjustments should employers make in the workplace?

Each employee needs to be treated individually. Employers should make adjustments to ensure equal access and opportunity for disabled workers at every stage of their journey, including:

  • Reasonable adjustments during recruitment. You or your HR team should ask candidates who have disabilities if they need any adjustments to complete recruitment activities. This can include providing accessible testing facilities or alternative testing facilities,  or more assessment time for those with a visual impairment. By doing this, you are providing equal opportunity for employment for workers with disability.

  • Reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability in the workplace. As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring you’re meeting the needs of employees with disabilities. It’s essential to discuss and assess each employee’s situation with them, and ask them 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.

  • Reasonable adjustments to integrate adaptive technologies at work. Adaptive technologies are support tools workers with disabilities can use to carry out their roles. Organisations should provide workers with supportive technology, such as voice-activated software or the opportunity to use accessible text formats.

  • Choose someone as a point of contact for reasonable adjustments. Whether it’s yourself, an HR representative or someone in legal, this person should be trained in reasonable adjustment requirements and accessibility guidelines. They can be an advocate in your organisation, and work to promote diversity and accessibility for workers with disability..

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

Lastly, employers can’t terminate or demote employees because of any disability.

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 employer hasn’t provided reasonable adjustments at work. Employers are investigated by the AHRC and, if there are breaches, may have to make adjustments and also pay compensation.

  • Unjustifiable hardship. In this case, employers need to prove that 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 disability, but it’s hard to know where to begin. The good news is there are tools out there to help employers with financial and organisational assistance, including:

On top of this, you can take a look at Job Access, which is a free website to support disability employment. This platform has handy information on the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, subsidies and support, training and resources to help employers.

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