Everyone has the right to a job. That includes the two million working age Australians with a disability.
People with a disability can make great employees. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) says organisations can greatly benefit from employing people with a disability. VEOHRC says research has found people with a disability are more likely to stay in a job for longer. We are also less likely to take time off from work.
VEOHRC says it is illegal to discriminate in the workforce on the grounds of disability or illness. Workplaces must also make reasonable adjustments for people with a disability. But thousands of Australians with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed. And unfortunately, discrimination can be difficult to prove.
Disclosing your disability
Many disabilities and chronic illnesses are "invisible" to others. Many working people have conditions they have never disclosed to their employer. It can be a hard decision whether to disclose or not. There is no legal obligation for an employee to disclose their disability. The employer might be able to provide important support and workplace adjustments. But some employers might discriminate.
Riki is legally blind as a result of an acquired brain injury (ABI). Riki is searching for a job. Sometimes the application forms ask whether she has a disability. She feels like she has to say yes because her sight requires special accommodations. But Riki says she would prefer to be able to wait until the interview to disclose her disability.
Employers can ask at any time during the recruitment process whether the applicant has a disability. They can ask if it is for the purpose of determining whether any adjustments may be required to adequately perform the job. But Riki wonders how many employers are using the question to discriminate against people with a disability.
The Federal Government has a Workplace Modifications Scheme. The scheme pays for modifying the workplace or purchasing special equipment for new employees with disability. But Riki says many employers are unaware of this. Riki also has other disabilities other than her vision impairment. But she chooses not to disclose these unless she believes that they will significantly affect her performance in a job.
VEOHRC advises that if a job applicant's disability will not affect their work performance, they can state "not applicable" to questions about whether they have a disability. It is also illegal to ask whether a person has a mental illness. Riki says she chooses to disclose her vision loss as she believes it will help her get the workplace modifications she needs to increase her productivity.
(But) I am reluctant to disclose my ABI in the workplace due to people's assumption that I have other social interpersonal handicaps, she says.
Other than my vision loss, the side effects resulting from my ABI do not affect me in the workplace. This is the other reason why I choose not to disclose them.
Misunderstanding and prejudice
There can be advantages and disadvantages for people disclosing their disability to their employer. For example, people with a mental illness can often experience misunderstanding and prejudice. A boss or organisation may not be supportive of an employee with a mental illness. But a supportive workplace can provide great benefits to both the employee and the organisation. Another example is that people with Aspergers' syndrome or autism can benefit from having supervisors understand their condition. It can be important that people recognise some behaviour is not intentional rudeness or ignoring directions.
Disclosure can have negative consequences if bosses are not supportive. I have spoken to people with a mental illness who have described instances of bosses intentionally causing them stress. Discrimination like this can be difficult to prove. But support is available. The Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council is a good starting place. VEOHRC, Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Fair Work Ombudsman could also provide support. It might also be appropriate to contact your union.
There are many agencies in Australia that assist people with disabilities to find jobs. Try searching "disability employment services" on the web. Examples of agencies include:
- Break Thru People Solutions
- Distinctive Options
- Echo Australia
- Job Focus
- Salvation Army
- WISE Employment.
Agencies can let the organisation know that the person has a disability. They can also support employees in the workplace. Only short-term support might be necessary. Ross Lewis from Break Thru People Solutions tells the example of a client with an ABI who was a veterinarian. He needed support with organising his working day when returning to work. But after a short period he was fine on his own.
Creating a job
Agencies can also support organisations to "create" a job for a person with a disability that suits their capabilities. This might include a part-time role. Agencies might also suggest "job carving" to an employer. This means creating a job from basic tasks that more senior staff are currently performing.
Educating and supporting employers is an important part of increasing employment opportunities for people with a disability. Last month the Federal Government announced funding for a new guide to help employers better understand the needs of employees with disability. It is called A Guide to Employer Engagement – From the Employers Voice. The Workplace Modifications Scheme also funds awareness training for colleagues in relation to various disabilities. Meanwhile, the Disability Employment Advisory Service is working to increase employment opportunities for people with a disability within Victorian government departments.
- Australian Network for Disability (opens new window)
- Consumer Affairs Victoria (opens new window)
- Disability Discrimination Legal Service (opens new window)
- Disability Employment Advisory Service (opens new window)
- Fair Work Ombudsman (opens new window)
- Job Access (opens new window)
- Victorian Equal Opportunity Human Rights Commission (opens new window)
- Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council (opens new window)