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Part 1: Information

What is my role as a manager and leader?

In the 2006 report Employment of People with Disability in the APS3 the members of MAC4 each made a commitment to take a leading role in promoting a culture in the APS that values diversity and actively promotes the employment of people with disability. The report notes that:

Agency heads have successfully encouraged and established the APS performance culture. They have an equally valuable role in communicating to their organisation, particularly managers, how that culture embraces diversity.5

Publicly stated, high level commitments to the employment of people with disability are very important, but it is up to managers at all levels to foster workplaces where, within the framework of the APS Values, the diverse skills, abilities and cultural perspectives of individuals are respected, and disability is seen as nothing more than another point of difference.

An agency in which the workplace culture embraces and encourages diversity is more likely to attract and retain people with disability. Working in an agency that exhibits such a culture, people with disability are more likely to feel comfortable disclosing the fact. This will allow the agency to provide any necessary adjustments and support so that each employee, in turn, can make their best contribution to the agency’s work. It will also allow the agency to monitor their success in attracting and retaining people with disability over time.

Leaders play the key role in setting workplace culture. Employees take their cues from their managers and their immediate environment. They interpret the behaviour of their managers as defining acceptable conduct in practice.

Senior leaders and line managers are responsible for ensuring that people in their workplaces understand the value of diversity. They are also responsible for ensuring that their workplace is accessible and provides support where needed to people with disability. This includes fostering an inclusive workplace culture in which people with disability are included in work and social networks.

What can I do?

The questions senior leaders and line managers wishing to promote cultural change should be asking themselves include:

  • Is there more I need to do to ensure that my staff are aware of the APS Values and Code of Conduct, particularly their obligations to:
    • ensure that their workplace is free from discrimination and recognises and uses the diversity of the Australian community
    • behave with honesty, integrity, respect and courtesy towards their colleagues and people in the community?
  • Do the managerial decisions that I make openly demonstrate to my staff that they are based on the Values?
  • Have I stressed to the managers who work for me the importance I personally place on supporting diversity in the workplace?
  • Have I demonstrated by example to the people I manage that I take my obligations under the APS Values and Code of Conduct seriously and set myself the same high standards of behaviour that I expect of them?
  • Does the mix of employees in my area reflect the diversity of the Australian community and the clients with which my agency works?
  • If not, have I put steps in place to address that over time?
  • Should I consider marketing future employment opportunities in a way that will attract interest from a more varied cross-section of people?
  • Do I need to take steps to improve the accessibility of my workplace to people with disability?
  • Have I created an environment in which people with disability can talk to their colleagues about their condition, should they wish to do so, without being stigmatised?
  • Have I created an environment that supports all staff regardless of whether they disclose a disability?
  • Have I met with my employees with disability to make sure that I understand their concerns?
  • Am I confident that people in my area who have disclosed a disability have the tools and the support they need to do their job effectively?

A checklist for senior leaders and managers is included at Appendix A.

What are we talking about? Some definitions…

What is a disability?

The term disability is defined in section 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DD Act). The definition in the DD Act is a broad one, and includes:

  • total or partial loss of the person’s bodily or mental functions
  • total or partial loss of a part of the body
  • the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness
  • the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness
  • the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body
  • a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction
  • a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour.

The definition includes disabilities that presently exist, previously existed, may exist in the future, and even those that are ‘imputed to a person’ whether or not they actually exist.

The definition is objective, not subjective, and people with a disability may not personally recognise that their particular condition is a disability, especially where it does not affect their ability to do things. For example, because it is a ‘disfigurement’ serious scarring can be a disability under this definition, even if its impact is only visual.

In other cases, although the person with a particular condition may not regard that condition as a disability, it can affect the way they are perceived by people around them and the behaviour of those people toward that individual.

In many cases, disabilities are not obvious or even visible to other people. People with these ‘hidden’ conditions may experience difficulty in convincing other people that they have a disability at all, but that does not mean that it is not real, or that it does not affect their daily lives.

This definition of disability is used in the APS for the development of recruitment and retention strategies. However, because it is difficult to operationalise at the practical process of data collection, a different definition of disability, used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), is used to collect data and statistics from APS employees to monitor and assess the performance of the APS in relation to the employment of people with disability. For more detail on this issue, see 'What questions can I ask someone about their disability?'.

Janet’s story

For years Janet had been dealing with a spinal injury to her lower back that left her in chronic pain and often unable to work full time hours. Her condition had meant also that she tended to take a lot of sick leave. As a result she often had trouble keeping up-to-date with developments in her work. Limitations on her capacity to type as a consequence of the injury also meant, she thinks, that people tended not to see what other skills she had to offer and didn’t understand the contribution she could make.

Ironically, things got worse for Janet before they got better. An accident in a lift at work gave her a new spinal injury in her neck and aggravated her lower back problem. Her employer put in place a structured rehabilitation programme, appointing a rehabilitation officer who worked with the employer’s case manager, treating doctor, and workplace to develop a solution that included:

  • a proper ergonomic assessment of her workstation and the provision of appropriate equipment
  • the provision of voice-activated software to help deal with her reduced capacity to use a keyboard
  • allowing her to work reduced hours to help manage her pain.

Now Janet says that she feels that she is a respected and valued member of her team, and enjoys the work she does. At the same time, her team members have become more aware of the fact that different people have different needs and, of course, have the benefit of working with someone who's happy not to be in constant pain.

Chronic back injuries are among the most common forms of disability in the Australian community. Even so, many people in the community don’t understand this or often believe that back injuries are somehow ‘not real’, that people with them are just looking for a hand-out.

Janet’s case gives the lie to such preconceptions. Throughout all the difficulties she has kept working, and with the assistance of her employer is now making the contribution she was always capable of.

Discrimination in employment

The Public Service Act 1999 specifically prohibits discrimination in the workplace (section 10(1)(c)) and requires all APS employees to comply with applicable Australian laws (section 13(4)), including the DD Act.

The DD Act prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of disability.

Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently from others specifically because they have a disability, for example where a person is denied the opportunity to work for an agency because that agency only hires ‘able-bodied people’.

Indirect discrimination occurs when treating people with disability in the same way as everyone else results in an unfair disadvantage to them. For example, expecting all employees to climb a small step to get into their workplace would be satisfactory for most employees, but may mean that employees in wheelchairs can’t even get into the building.

Employees (and prospective employees) with disability are entitled to be treated fairly and without discrimination. At the same time, employers have a right to be confident that their employees, with or without disability, are able to perform the tasks for which they have been selected and for which they are paid.

The DD Act reflects this balance.

In relation to employees the fundamental question it asks of employers is: can the employee perform the inherent requirements of the job, with reasonable adjustments where necessary and where these adjustments do not cause unjustifiable hardship? If the answer to this question is yes, then it is unlawful to discriminate against that person in relation to their engagement6 or dismissal.

The terms ‘reasonable adjustment’, ‘inherent requirements’, and ‘unjustifiable hardship’ are discussed in more detail in the following material. In each case, however, it is important to remember that they are objective tests. The question is always whether in the case being considered a reasonable person would think the adjustment was unreasonable or would cause unjustifiable hardship, or the person could meet the inherent requirements of the position; not whether the particular employer or employee thinks that this is so.

Like most other decisions relating to employment in the APS, it is also a question that attracts common law rights of procedural fairness about how the decision is to be made. Decisions should be made transparently and impartially, and the employee (or prospective employee) given the right to comment on any material that is adverse to their interests.

What are ‘inherent requirements’?

The DD Act does not make it unlawful to dismiss, refuse to employ, transfer or promote a person who cannot perform the inherent requirements of a position. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has also stated its view that this extends to not prohibiting ‘inquiries, examinations or actions which are reasonably intended for the purpose of determining a person’s ability to perform the inherent requirements of the relevant job.’

Defining the ‘inherent requirements’ of a position will always be a matter of careful judgement for an employer to make. The relevant factors may include, for example:

  • the work required in practice to be performed—if the job in practice does not require a particular duty to be performed, or if it is not being performed by other employees in similar roles, it may not be an inherent requirement even if it is shown on a duty statement
  • the importance or urgency of a particular task—duties that might need to be performed in an emergency might form part of the ‘inherent requirements’ of a position even if they are not shown on the duty statement or have not been previously performed
  • the circumstances in which a job is to be performed—the ‘inherent requirements’ in one set of circumstances may not apply in another, even if the duties are very similar
  • mandatory qualifications or other prescribed standards required for the performance of a function.

In defining the inherent requirements of a job it is useful to think about the results that need to be achieved—what needs to be done—rather than focusing on particular methods of achieving results. How the result is achieved is less likely to be an inherent requirement, and more likely to be subject to reasonable adjustment, where this is possible without unjustifiable hardship.

In making a decision about whether a person can meet the inherent requirements of a position, with reasonable adjustments being made, an employer may wish to seek the assistance of specialist medical or expert opinion. The person may also wish to provide evidence of this kind.

In either case, the employer remains responsible for any decision they make about whether a person can meet the inherent requirements of the position. They must consider all the relevant evidence, including any medical opinion, and come to their own view.

Working safely

The capacity to meet the inherent requirements of a position is not limited to the ability to perform the duties. HREOC has recognised that meeting the reasonable occupational health and safety requirements of a position forms part of the inherent requirements.

This includes both the question of the employee working safely with other employees, and not exposing themselves to unreasonable risk. So, for example, in one case resolved by HREOC it was concluded that it was reasonable to insist that an employee wear a safety helmet even though the employee complained that, because of his disability, that caused him difficulty and discomfort.

Where this issue arises, an assessment of whether the employee can meet the inherent requirements of the position should be made bearing in mind the range of adjustments that might help to meet occupational health and safety requirements. This can include, for example, adjustments to facilities, equipment, practices or training.

What is ‘reasonable adjustment’?

The concept of reasonable adjustment—sometimes referred to as reasonable accommodation—reflects the understanding that people with disability can often perform the tasks of a position where adjustments are made to accommodate the effects of their disability.

Barry’s story

Some disabilities are hidden, or are relatively common medical conditions that many of us don’t think of as disabilities at all.

Barry was diagnosed a dozen years ago as having repetitive strain injury to his hands and wrists, which affected him not only at work but also in activities outside of work. This is a huge problem when, like Barry, you’re working as a lawyer in an APS agency, and can’t carry out your duties because they involve a lot of keyboard use.

Luckily, the general practitioner he consulted was experienced enough to recognise the problem straightaway and also had some experience in what could be done to overcome it. The general practitioner told him to approach his employer to provide him with technological and other assistance to try and deal with this problem and to allow him to carry on with his work.

The solution in this case has been to use voice-recognition software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which has allowed him to keep working. In Barry’s case, the new hardware and software that he was supplied with was funded from a central budget maintained in his agency rather than from his branch’s budget.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking has worked very well for me and I would not be able to do my current job without it as I would not be able to manually type all the documents/produce all the text work which I need to do as part of my current job.

Being able to use this software means that Barry can keep working productively without depending on other staff for help.

There is no exhaustive list of what kinds of changes can be made. There are many different types of disability, and they affect people in highly individual ways. Technologies available to assist people with disability are constantly changing. Each case will need to be considered on its own merits and it is usually helpful to consult with the employee about the types of adjustment they have found to be most helpful.

Employers are also free to seek advice about reasonable adjustment from other expert sources. A starting list of possible sources of information is included in this toolkit at Places to go for information. Notwithstanding the advice provided by such expert sources, or by the employee, the final decision on what type of adjustment should be provided rests with the employer: employers are not bound to accept one form of advice over another and must exercise their own judgement. The first question is whether it works, that is, whether it allows that employee to perform the inherent requirements of the position.

Often adjustments made to meet the needs of people with disability will also be beneficial for other employees. Better access to buildings, more functional software, and flexible employment conditions are just some examples. At the same time, the need for ad hoc reasonable adjustment is often reduced by proper systems, policies and infrastructure in the first place.

Most employees with disability will require no type of adjustment at all. In other cases, the most important type of adjustment will be training to influence the attitude of colleagues about the ability of the employee with disability.

Reasonable adjustment is a broad term. Although it applies to changes that allow employees to perform their duties, it also applies to changes that allow employees with disability an equal opportunity to be considered for transfer, promotion, training or other employment opportunities, and allow them to participate in work-related facilities or programmes.

Common types of reasonable adjustment include:

  • adjustments to the workplace, equipment or facilities, including provision of additional equipment or facilities, e.g. the provision of voice-activated software or designing common kitchen facilities so that they can be used by someone in a wheelchair
  • adjustments to work-related communications including the form or format in which information is available, such as providing documents in an electronic format
  • adjustments to work methods i.e. a change to the way that a task is done, e.g. a person with a mobility impairment might prefer to participate in meetings by video or teleconference rather than travel a long distance to be there in person
  • adjustments to work arrangements, including in relation to hours of work—e.g. part-time work or the use of flextime arrangements—and use of leave entitlements
  • providing training to co-workers or supervisors to influence their attitude to co-workers with disability or, at a more general level, to improve their awareness of disability issues in the workplace
  • adjustments to methods used for assessment or selection (this is discussed in more detail in Part 2 of this kit)
  • access to development opportunities to demonstrate or develop capacity in a position
  • provision of interpreters, readers, attendants or other work related assistance
  • permitting or facilitating a person with disability to use their own equipment, such as a document reader, or assistance provided by another person or organisation
  • changes to the duties of the position, usually at the margin, that do not affect the inherent requirements of that position. For example, a person working in a job providing administrative support, whose role involved occasional courier duties might, because of their disability, not hold a driving licence. In that case, a reasonable adjustment could be for that employee to swap that function with another employee and take on some other duty instead.

Further advice about adjustments and solutions that are available is set out in this toolkit, and is also available on-line using the JobAccess Workplace Adjustment Tool.7

Mike’s story

Mike’s story illustrates the point that it’s some times the small, less obvious things that need to be thought about carefully. Even where the immediate working environment for someone with a disability lets them get on with their work, that’s only part of the story. Work is about more than sitting at your desk, and a broad perspective about reasonable adjustment is necessary if people with disability are to enjoy the things that most employees take for granted.

Some years ago, Mike was diagnosed with Familial Spastic Paraparesis, a degenerative condition that causes progressive weakness and spasticity in the muscles in the lower body.

In 2001 Mike started in his current agency, using a walking stick to help his mobility. His manager organised disabled parking when he started employment. As time passed and his condition got more difficult, he needed an ergonomic chair and an adjustable desk, both of which were provided to him. By this stage he also had to use a walking frame for mobility and, as time passed, he had to start using a wheelchair.

Things became a little more complicated, especially when he moved to a new office.

The conditions at the new location were less than satisfactory. As Mike describes it:

The deep pile carpet was lovely to walk on but like trying to push through sand in a wheelchair; the disabled toilet had no hand rails, no soap and no towels.

The hot water tap was too high to reach from a sitting position. This resulted in having to request someone to make me a cup of tea after I scalded myself trying.

The doors were difficult to open as they were heavy and required me to hold the handle and try to propel myself backwards to open the door then negotiate past the door before it closed on me.

Some of these things were addressed by moving Mike to another floor that had been partially modified for another employee in a wheelchair.

After about five months Mike was moved again. The new location had no disabled toilets on his floor which meant that he would have had to go outside to the car park for toilet facilities. After he objected to this Mike was moved to the floor above the rest of his team which, inevitably, meant that he tended not to be included in team discussions even where they affected him directly.

When he had to attend meetings he sometimes found that the toilet facilities were locked, or that the designated disabled toilet was not wheelchair accessible (the doorway was not wide enough) or the hand rail was broken or the toilet facilities were down stairs with no lift facilities.

While Mike’s situation is still not satisfactory he’s hopeful that it will be addressed properly in the new building that his agency is developing. He has been asked to participate on its access study—looking at ways to improve access to the building and its facilities by people with disability—including the:

  • design of hot water taps and other tap handles
  • location of card readers on automatic doors
  • size of disabled car parks to allow proper wheelchair access
  • design of cupboards to allow wheelchair access to sinks to do washing up.

One of the other things he’s found is that many people, including his employer, aren’t aware of the other supports that are available to assist employees with disability.

It was by sheer luck that I found out about the mobility allowance8 that supports people with disability in their employment and who can’t use public transport easily. The same is true for the GST exemption that I get on car parts and purchase.9 Hardly anyone seems to know about these and I wish they were publicised better.

What is ‘unjustifiable hardship’?

In deciding whether a type of reasonable adjustment would cause unjustifiable hardship, section 11 of the DD Act requires the employer to consider all of the relevant circumstances of the particular case including:

  • the nature of the benefit or detriment likely to accrue or be suffered by any persons concerned
  • the effect of the disability of a person concerned, that is, its impact on the specific person with the disability in those specific circumstances
  • the financial circumstances and the estimated amount of expenditure required to be made by the agency claiming unjustifiable hardship.

The ‘benefit or detriment’ is not limited to financial costs or benefits: it can also include matters like occupational health and safety impacts, or the capacity of the employer to comply with the provisions of other relevant laws, standards, or agreements.

In some circumstances, APS agencies can apply for reimbursement of modification expenses associated with the:

  • engagement of new employees with disability
  • changes to the employment of existing employees with disability
  • change in the disability of an employee, or
  • introduction of new assistive technology

under the Workplace Modifications Scheme.10

Funding to support Deaf employees who require Auslan interpreting is also available under the Auslan Employment Programme.11

Establishing that a particular modification will cause unjustifiable hardship will always be a matter of circumstances, but HREOC have indicated that it is likely to be a difficult test to satisfy in APS agencies given that the objects of the DD Act include the removal, as far as possible, of discrimination against people with disability in employment.

What different types of disability are there?

The image of a person with disability is often limited to someone using a wheelchair or someone being assisted by a seeing-eye dog. In fact the range of disabilities experienced by APS employees and potential employees is enormous.

The formal definition of ‘disability’ is discussed in 'What are we talking about? Some definitions…'. The following material discusses in more detail some of the major classifications of disability and provides links to further information.

When a person with any type of disability joins a work team, or when an existing team member’s disability causes concern within the team, for example, where someone with a chronic or episodic illness becomes sick, it may be appropriate for an expert to speak with the team about aspects of disability, or issues relating to that person's specific disability.

In some instances the person with a disability may be happy to speak to the whole team about their disability and answer any questions. This will always be their decision. They may not wish to disclose details of their condition to co-workers or have it discussed in the workplace, and that right should be respected by their colleagues.

A manager may want more information to prepare themselves and their team to support a new employee with a disability. Often this will be available from the organisation that assesses the employee for a pre-engagement health clearance, such as Health Services Australia,12 or by an employment support agency that is helping the employee settle in to their new employment. In other cases, specialist advice and assistance is available from disability organisations, possibly on a fee for service basis. Some of these agencies are listed in 'Places to go for information' in this kit, or are contactable through the JobAccess website.13

Lily’s story

Ever since Lily was a small girl she has been dealing with the effects of her hearing impairment.

Her particular condition is unusual. While most people with hearing impairments hear something in a distorted way or not at all, Lily’s condition affects the way sounds that she hears are processed and interpreted, and can often change some sounds for others or create new sounds altogether.

For example

  • she can be listening to someone speak and they will sound as though they are speaking another language, or
  • someone can walk past her and she'll think they've whispered something, or
  • she can see someone's lips move and know they are talking but only hear the fan that is blowing in the background.

One of the major issues that Lily has faced is trying to explain her condition to others. Even some medical specialists have found it hard to understand the nature of the condition.

The fact that Lily has been dealing with her disability for almost all of her life means that she has developed a wide variety of strategies. In her experience she has found that the most effective approach is to disclose her condition to the people she deals with regularly and let them know the best approaches for interacting with her.

The strategies that Lily uses at work to deal with the effects of her disability are a combination of experience and common sense, such as:

  • checking with her colleagues whether she has heard something correctly, sometimes finger spelling it just to be certain. As she says: this gives people the opportunity to tell me if I have misheard a letter and then I can guess what the word is
  • positioning herself in a room so that she has a better chance of hearing and so that she can read a person's lips while they speak
  • after meetings, talking directly to people to confirm that what she thought happened in the meeting is the case.

Probably the bigger issue is dealing with the telephone, both understanding people who are calling her but also, before that, knowing whether the phone that’s ringing is hers or someone else’s. Phones can be adapted with a flasher for this purpose, but Lily hasn’t asked for one yet, and most of the time she can work out when the phone ringing is hers. Apart from that, Lily often encourages people to deal with her by email.

One of the most important things for Lily is the fact that her colleagues know how to work with her effectively

…when people know I have a hearing impairment in the public service, they seem to know what to do… Not many people realise that talking louder will probably exacerbate the problem, that it is more important to speak clearly. If I am having a particularly bad time with my hearing, people who are aware of my hearing issues will generally revert to email as the preferred form of communication because they know I find that easier and a lot less stressful. They will also know to get my attention before speaking to me and to not turn away from me or cover their mouths.

It is highly recommended that managers consult initially with the person with the disability. If he or she is willing to discuss their disability then managers will often find that the person has probably had many years of experience managing their disability, and they can draw on that expertise. This simple step may be the first and best thing that a person managing an employee with disability can do.

This kind of conversation is consistent with general approaches to performance management and staff development for every employee, and can be seen in that light. Managers should, of course, talk to all of their employees, not just those with disability, about what the employee is expected to achieve and what they might require in terms of support or developmental opportunities to do their job effectively.

The Job Access website provides a range of useful information about disabilities using the Workplace Adjustment Tool,14 a comprehensive database of modification and adjustment ideas that includes information about suppliers and products in Australia. JobAccess Advisers,15 also contactable through the website, can provide advice about workplace modifications, including referrals to suitable workplace assessors.

The following material, grouped against a number of common types of disability, which draws from material developed by the Public Employment Office of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, may also be helpful.

Physical and sensory disability

Physical disability is in itself a broad term and encompasses a range of different types of disability such as:

  • mobility and motor function disabilities
  • vision and hearing impairments
  • speech impediments
  • neurological disabilities

Disabilities of this kind may or may not be visible. In some cases they may have existed since birth or been acquired as the result of an accident, injury or illness. Some disabilities occur with ageing.

Common types of reasonable adjustment

Because the range of physical disabilities is so broad, each individual’s experience of a different disability is so personal, and technologies and solutions available to assist people with disability are constantly changing, it is impossible to compile an exhaustive list of the different types of reasonable adjustment that might be made to support an employee.

The following list sets out some ideas for the kinds of adjustments that may be useful to agencies and employees.

  • When someone starts in a new role, conduct a workplace assessment and provide the employee with furniture that meets appropriate ergonomic standards and is adjustable to meet their needs—whether or not they have a disability.
  • Ensure that your building has proper access to people in wheelchairs or using other types of mobility assistance.
  • Ensure there are proper arrangements so that staff with mobility impairments can get through entry security, e.g. automatic doors or gates should stay open long enough to allow a person on crutches time to pass through. Where possible, employees with disability should be able to enter the building through the same entrances as other employees.
  • Ensure there is reasonable access to disabled toilets.
  • Ensure office, meeting, training and amenity areas are set out to enable use by someone in a wheelchair.
  • Be flexible about how, where, and even when work needs to be carried out.
  • Computer-based technologies provide a wide range of assistance to people with varying degrees and types of impairment, including text enlargement, text reading, and voice synthesiser hardware and software.
  • Install an induction loop to conference/meeting rooms to assist people with hearing impairments.
  • Install visual alert systems to complement audio signals such as ringing phones, or fire alarms.
  • Use active listening techniques (e.g. paraphrasing and repeating back what you have just heard) when talking to someone with a speech impediment.
  • Train other employees in Auslan.
  • Provide alternate means for people with disability to travel when required to for business purposes (including, costs for carers and other assistance where this is reasonable).

Additional detail concerning accessibility to premises for people with disability is set out at Making workplaces accessible.

Jo’s story

Jo works in a senior role in a small APS agency. She was born with her disability: cataracts in both eyes mean that she has a significant visual impairment that often makes it difficult for her to read text in some forms and that, in turn, often left her lacking confidence in unfamiliar situations early in her career.

In my early career, I felt that I had to prove that I was significantly better than anyone else… to make up for any perceived stereotypes about my abilities as a visually impaired person. Now I am much more confident in my skills, my abilities and my personal qualities, I do not feel I have anything to prove, and that I can be judged on my experience and my achievements.

With developments in technologies, and changes in attitude over time to her disability, Jo has succeeded in her field. Her situation now can be compared with her early career when, although she was working as a psychologist/counsellor, she often had difficulty accessing jobs because she didn’t hold a driver’s licence and some employers were not willing to consider simple alternatives—such as letting her take taxis.

Now, says Jo, the adjustments that employers need to make for her are essentially routine, and she’s never had a problem getting the right technological support in the APS. This has mainly included technology like a larger than standard monitor and text enlargement software.

Other things are also easy to manage. For example, in meetings

  • where there’s a PowerPoint presentation she can participate fully if she has a hard copy of the slides
  • it often helps her if people say out loud what they’re writing down on white boards as they go.

It’s not all perfect, however:

It comes down to the awareness of individual people and their willingness to accommodate individual differences. At the end of the day, I do miss lots of information that is presented visually, and I have to make up for that with my memory, my analytical skills and often extra reading.

Further information

A list of agencies dealing with employment support for employees is at 'Places to go for information' in this kit. Further information on particular disabilities is available on the Internet at sites such as the JobAccess website16 or the US Job Accommodation Network website.17

Intellectual Disability

People with intellectual disability can learn work skills and become productive members of the workforce.

Employees with an intellectual disability will have needs that vary from individual to individual. As with any other person with disability, people with intellectual disability should be approached as individuals with different strengths and weaknesses and, like other employees, will need to be managed and trained in ways that are personally appropriate to them.

Common types of reasonable adjustment

In the APS, employees with intellectual disability will often be supported in the workplace, at least for a period, by an external support agency that can provide training and support to the employee, and advice to the employer about job design, handling employment issues, and ongoing support.

Job design, and job redesign, will probably be the most common type of reasonable adjustment for employees with intellectual disability. Usually it will occur at the time of engagement with the assistance of the relevant support agency, but it may also need to recur over time as matters change. The design of positions for people with intellectual disability, and the training that goes with that, requires expertise and it is recommended that agencies consult with a support agency during this process.

In some cases, an employee with an intellectual disability may also require more time to learn a particular task. Advice on how to approach this issue, when necessary, can be obtained from the relevant support agency.

In some cases it may be appropriate to consider the use of the Supported Wage System18 if an employee with disability is unable to work at full wage rates due to the effect of their disability on their workplace productivity.19

Further information

A list of agencies dealing with employment support is shown at 'Places to go for information' in this kit, while further information on intellectual disability is available from the National Council on Intellectual Disability.20

Tracey’s story

Tracey is a senior manager in a regional office of a Commonwealth agency. In 2003 she was approached by Jobsupport,21 a disability employment service provider, to see if her agency could take on a placement with intellectual disability for a limited period of work experience.

Tracey met with Jobsupport and discussed whether there was scope within her agency for such an initiative and how this might be approached. She knew that there were a number of tasks that weren’t being done properly within her organisation because, even though they had the capacity to undermine the core business of her organisation, they were seen as being of low status. For example, the failure to attach critical documents to files often led to meetings being adjourned to the frustration of all parties.

Tracey felt that if these tasks could be bundled together they could form a job for a person with intellectual disability and would free up other staff to concentrate on other tasks, with an improvement to both efficiency and morale. She also knew that if there was an impact on productivity i.e. if the placement wasn’t able to work at a standard rate, she could use the Supported Wage System to pay an appropriate wage rate.

Jobsupport agreed to:

  • search their client database to find a suitable candidate
  • provide a trainer on the ground in the agency to learn the duties and then train the employee in them, including the social behaviours that we often take for granted (e.g. where are the kitchen facilities, where are the toilets, should I join the coffee club and how does that work)
  • after the training period, i.e. at the time that the placement was competent in the job, have the trainer remain in contact with the agency and continue to provide support on an ‘as needs’ basis.

After a short period Jason, a young man with intellectual disability, started work in the agency: delivering mail, doing trolley runs, putting files away and delivering them, and a selection of similar tasks.

The experience worked well for everyone concerned. Jason was in paid employment and visibly gained personal confidence and social skills. From Tracey’s perspective

Helping Jason to reach a level of competency became a project for the whole office and there was definitely a ‘feel good benefit’ for all of our staff.

After Jason completed the work experience we were so happy with him and the way it helped our records staff to perform other more complex tasks we employed Jason as an ongoing part-time employee at the APS1 level.

He’s still there today, still making his contribution and helping get the work done.

Mental illness or psychiatric disability

A significant proportion of the Australian adult population will experience a mental illness at some stage in their lives. One study suggests that perhaps almost one in five adult Australians will experience some type of mental illness every year.22 It is very likely that there are a large number of people with mental illness working in the APS already, and working effectively, without having disclosed their disability and without their colleagues being aware of it.

Mental illness encompasses a range of conditions that affect a person’s emotional wellbeing and/or their understanding of reality. It refers to conditions that result in disorders of thought, emotion, perception and judgement. People with a psychiatric disability may suffer from a variety of mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Most will seem no different from anyone else.

For employees with mental illness, concerns about experiences in previous jobs, fears about recurring episodes of illness, and anxiety about being accepted by co-workers can make the start of a job a particularly stressful time. In addition, people with a mental illness, as well as their families, professionals and the public, may view any sign of anxiety as an exacerbation of the illness, and this can add to the work related anxieties experienced by an employee who has a psychiatric disability.

Common types of reasonable adjustment

Like other types of disability, mental illness is highly personalised and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the changes that need to be made in the workplace.

It is highly recommended that when a new employee commences work and has disclosed their disability, the manager asks him or her whether they wish to be 'open' with their colleagues regarding their illness. It is the employee’s right not to do so. It is a personal decision of the individual whether they disclose, or discuss aspects of, their illness.

There may be times when leaving the workplace and even hospitalisation is unavoidable for short periods. Flexibility and support at this time is important and a period of rest and re-establishment may be needed.

When a person is away from the workplace it is often very helpful for their colleagues to endeavour to remain in touch to ensure that they remain part of the ‘community’ of the workplace.

Supportive co-workers can also assist by focusing on the abilities and shared interests of the person with a mental illness. As with any other employee, a return to the workplace may mean new tasks, which should be selected carefully to ensure that they are consistent with the classification, skills and capacity of the employee. Providing support for learning new tasks may help alleviate a concern that might otherwise lead to quitting a job prematurely.

Other types of adjustment include:

  • access to flexible hours and leave to deal with issues such as visiting doctors and therapists, and for dealing with the side effects of some types of medication (which can, for instance, make it harder for a person to ‘get started’ early in the morning)
  • providing private or quiet work spaces
  • co-worker training. Psychiatric illness is rarely well understood within the community, including the APS. It is useful for managers and co-workers to know what the implications of the disability are for them and what they can do to help if necessary.

Vince’s story

Vince has spent years working with people with disability in the community as a Disability Carer.

Tragically, a few years ago one of his clients, a young man with an autistic disorder, died suddenly. Vince had worked closely with the person for some time and was deeply affected by his death. At the same time he felt that he and his co-workers didn’t get the support that they needed from their managers. He felt that he had become isolated and his emotional state deteriorated quickly to the point that he wanted to leave his job.

Since then Vince has been diagnosed with, and had to deal with the effects of, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The effects of PTSD for him have included

  • excessive anxiety and anger toward his workplace management team, peers and medical professionals
  • difficulty in his personal life through excessive pressure brought into the home environment. Among other things, he lost contact with many friends and family members who could not associate with ‘such an angry man’
  • health issues relating to substance abuse as he attempted ‘self-medication’
  • loss of self confidence, inner drive, self-worth and sense of identity
  • loss of his ability to work in chosen field of personal care for people with a disability.

Vince has continued to pursue his career in the public service, and has been promoted on several occasions. Each time he chose to disclose his disability during the selection process and discuss how it affected the way that he works. Mostly it doesn’t affect his work at all but, while he has made good progress in the last three years, he still needs regular leave to see his counsellor.

Each time that he’s changed job he has needed to discuss his situation and leave needs with his new managers, to explain his rehabilitation requirements. He’s also had to take some leave to cover his involvement in the coronial proceedings surrounding the death of his client. Being able to discuss his situation openly in a supportive work environment has been crucial.

His rehabilitation has also been helped by the active involvement of his doctor and his counsellor, who helped to design his rehabilitation programme. Setting up a network of support people, something that Vince did by himself, has also been helpful.

As for himself, Vince reports that this experience has made him

… a very understanding person regarding external and internal pressures that affect someone’s ability to work effectively, and due to my openness about the problems I have experienced I have been approached by individuals looking for a similar recovery process. I also realise that I have been an inspiration to some people—I have been seen to cope with high levels of pressure in the workplace despite the internal issues and have given some people the courage to persist despite the fears.

Further information

A list of agencies dealing with employment support is at 'Places to go for information' in this kit.

The Australian Government, in co-operation with the Mental Health Council of Australia, has also developed a free e-learning course, Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace. Further information about this course is available on the JobAccess website.23

Learning disability

People with learning disabilities have different needs and approaches to the way in which they acquire, retain, understand, organise or use information. This can include the ability to:

  • understand or use spoken or written language
  • do mathematical calculations
  • co-ordinate their physical movement
  • retain working memory
  • direct their attention.

A learning disability is not the same as an intellectual disability.

The term ‘learning disability’ covers a wide range of disorders. The best known learning disability is probably dyslexia but there are a range of other disabilities in this group.24 Learning disabilities range in severity.

People with learning disabilities may also have difficulties with organisational skills, social perception and social interaction.

Reasonable adjustment

As with physical disability, the range of learning disabilities is very broad and their impact on the individual is very personal. The following material provides some ideas about forms of reasonable adjustment that may be useful but, of course, the best ideas for reasonable adjustment are often available from the person with the disability:

  • difficulties in reading from hard copy can often be helped, e.g.
    • converting text to audio
    • providing larger print versions of documents
  • difficulties in reading from a screen can often be helped, e.g.
    • using manual or electronic line guides
    • altering colour schemes on the screen, or adjusting the font
  • to help with spelling–related disabilities
    • ask co-workers to help proofread written material
    • word prediction software displays a list of words that typically follow the word that was entered in a document
  • to help with writing-related disabilities
    • use line guides (even bold lined paper), spacing adjustment and column guides
    • create written forms to prompt the writer for information needed
  • to help with mathematics/calculation-related disabilities
    • use scratch paper to work out math problems
    • provide a talking calculator
  • to help with speaking/communication-related disabilities
    • allow the employee to provide written response in lieu of verbal response
    • allow the employee to bring a friend or co-worker to the meeting
  • to help with memory problems
    • provide checklists to help remember job tasks
    • use flowcharts to describe steps for complicated tasks
    • use a printing whiteboard at meetings

Further information

A list of agencies dealing with employment support is at Places to go for information in this kit. Further information on particular disabilities is available on the internet at sites such as the Australian Learning Disabilities Association,25 the Learning Disabilities Association of America,26 the JobAccess website27 or the US Job Accommodation Network website.28

Dealing with myths and misconceptions

Most people make assumptions about people with disability. Frequently these assumptions, even when they are well meaning, do not stand up to objective scrutiny.

Below are some of the more common myths and misconceptions about employing people with disability, and the facts that challenge them.

The type of work available in my agency/area is not suitable for people with disability

Like everyone else, people with disability have a diverse range of skills and abilities to offer. Many are tertiary or trade qualified and hold senior managerial positions. People with disability are employed across many occupations

  • 37 per cent of employees with disability are professionals, managers and administrators
  • 30 per cent of employees with disability are clerical sales and service workers
  • 33 per cent of employees with disability are from remaining occupational categories including tradespersons, production, and transport workers as well as labourers and related workers.29

Many people with disability are accustomed to finding alternative ways of doing things. This innovative thinking can be an asset when applied in the workplace.

The principles of employment are the same for people with disability as those without disability. As an employer your main focus should be on whether the individual has the skills and aptitude to do the job.

When employing people with disability, your agency can benefit by:

  • attracting and retaining the best of the talent pool
  • improving customer service by employing a workforce that reflects and understands the diversity of the community they serve
  • strengthening workplace morale by making co-workers aware that your agency values employees with a diverse range of abilities and is willing to respond flexibly to their needs
  • developing a reputation for being a good corporate citizen (which also improves employee morale)
  • complying with legislative requirements and meeting international standards.

Employing people with disability is too costly—I would need to make modifications to the workplace and purchase expensive technology

In fact, most people with disability require no workplace modifications to be made and if modifications are required they are usually simple and inexpensive.

One of the preliminary findings of a nationwide study30 underway in the USA, for instance, is that more than 50 per cent of workplace adjustments needed by employees and job applicants with disability cost nothing. Of those adjustments that did cost, the results show that the median dollar value was $US600. Such adjustments included, for example, providing flexible hours, rest periods or ‘time out’; allowing more time for training; providing enhanced lighting, or adjusting work stations and seating.

Australian research31 indicates that in relation to the cost/benefit of workplace adjustments for employees with disability, 65 per cent of employers rated the financial effect to be cost neutral and 20 per cent identified an overall financial benefit.

Michael’s story

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to always have laryngitis? Probably not, but for Michael that’s a recurrent part of his life.

Michael is an APS employee with Spasmodic Dysphonia. In simple terms this is a dysfunction of the larynx (or voice box). It means that usually his voice is fine in the morning but fades during the day, especially those days when he needs to talk a lot. There is no cure for the condition, but there is a treatment available which involves having Botox injected directly into his larynx.

As Michael puts it

I have had good and not so good managers in respect to managing my condition. My current manager is aware of the difficulties I often experience in being able to speak in a strong and clear voice. It often sounds very strangled and requires people to listen intently to what I am saying.

My current manager and I have worked on some hand signals to help assist such as when a meeting gets rowdy with lots of small discussions going on and I need to make a point for all to hear I will use the “T” sign for time out and my manager calls the meeting to order so I can be heard. I also try to limit my talking to short bursts rather than long lectures.

Michael and his manager have worked together constructively to develop simple and effective ways to deal with his disability in the workplace. Like most people with disability, the changes necessary to accommodate his disability in the workplace have been minor.

Some types of disability, such as vision impairment, may require an initial outlay on adaptive technology, but even this type of set-up expense is usually cost-effective in the longer term, given that employees with disability have been shown to have, on average, higher job retention and better attendance rates than those without disability.32 In a tight labour market, high employee turn-over represents a much greater risk of expenditure. Estimates vary, but the cost of replacing an effective employee is generally calculated to be somewhere between 70 per cent and 200 per cent of their annual salary, even without factoring in indirect costs such as the effects on the workload and morale of other employees.

Finally, under some circumstances employing agencies can seek reimbursement for these costs under the Workplace Modification Scheme.33

People with disability require more sick leave, are at risk of accident and will increase my insurance costs

In fact, studies have shown that employees with disability take less sick-leave than their colleagues, have fewer accidents at work and significantly fewer recorded workers compensation incidents.34

A study conducted by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC) found that, although the perception that employees have a higher occupational health and safety risk is common, the evidence for Australian workers showed that people with disability do not have a higher risk of occupational injury. Rather, the study found that the incidence of occupational injury is lower in people with disability.35

People with disability will not ‘fit in’ in my workplace

The fact is that you are almost certainly already working with people with disability in your workplace: you just don’t know it. Data from the ABS indicates that a little less than one in five Australians have a disability that will last for a significant period of time, and mental health data indicates that a significant proportion of Australians will experience a period of mental illness in any year.

In most respects working with a person with a disability is no different than working with any other employee. People with disability are individuals—some are easy to work with, others are more complex, like everyone else. In general, though, if you employ a person with disability you are likely to take on someone who is keen to prove that they can do the job and is highly motivated to keep on doing it to the best of their ability.

Rather than being a difficult fit in the workplace, there are in fact many benefits for organisations that employ people with disability. Low absenteeism and staff turnover, low incidence of workplace injury, and employee loyalty create productive and cost-effective work environments.

People with disability bring diversity to the workplace, which has a distinct, positive impact on staff morale.

People with disability are not as productive as other workers

This reflects the perception that ‘people with disability’ are somehow an homogeneous group instead of having just as wide a range of skills and abilities as people in the community generally. People with disability are all individuals, with very different impairments and, as individuals, they adapt to particular disabilities in different ways. Some people's performance will be adversely affected, others will be more motivated to achieve results. In many cases, disability will have no impact on productivity at all.

For this reason it is difficult to make broad comparisons between the productivity of employees with disability and employees generally, and the available research on the subject is not conclusive. For example, in the USA in 1990, DuPont conducted a survey of 811 employees with disability and found 90 per cent rated average or better in job performance compared to 95 per cent for employees without disability.36

A similar 1981 DuPont study, which involved 2,745 employees with disability, however, found that 92 per cent of employees with disability rated average or better in job performance compared to 90 per cent of employees without disability.

In Australia, a study conducted on behalf of Telstra Australia in 199937 found that there were no significant differences when comparing people with disability to people without disability in the areas of performance, productivity and sales.

In contrast, the results of a study of 634 Australian employers published in 200238 showed that employees with disability rated lower than ‘average’ employees on speed and accuracy, although they rated higher on attendance, sick leave and recruitment, safety and insurance costs.

The study also found that a high percentage of employers reported significant benefits to the organisation as a whole as a result of employing people with disability.

Taken as a whole, the literature suggests that there is little difference between people with disability and other people when comparing levels of productivity.

Nonetheless, where there are concerns about the productivity of an individual, agencies may be able to address this in a cost neutral way under the Supported Wage System.39

People with mental illness are too big a risk to employ, as they may become violent

While mental illness affects many adult Australians, it remains greatly misunderstood in the community.

One of the common myths about mental illness, perpetuated to a degree by the way it is portrayed in the news media, fiction and films, is that people with mental illness have an exaggerated tendency to be violent.

In fact, people being treated for a mental illness are no more violent or dangerous than the general population. Mental illness is associated with only a small percentage of the violence that occurs in society, and people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

When people with mental illness are violent, this is usually when they are not receiving treatment or taking medication as prescribed, when there is drug or alcohol abuse, or where there is a history of violent behaviour.40

Employing people with disability will mean extra work for my staff, as people with disability need more training

People with disability do not necessarily require more training than people without disability. The amount of training required, including on-the-job training, depends on the type of job and the knowledge, skills and experience of the particular employee.

As with any other employee, on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring and learning and development programmes can assist employees with disability achieve their potential. Employees with disability need the same opportunities for learning and development as anyone else.

You will need to discuss with an employee with disability whether there are any reasonable adjustments they need in order to fully participate in learning and development programmes, and make sure that if you are engaging external training providers they are able to make the necessary adjustments.

If you employ a person with disability through a specialist provider, such as a member of the Disability Employment Network or a Vocational Rehabilitation Service, they will generally be willing to provide free assistance, including on the job training and support for the employee and disability awareness training for their co-workers.

As a manager, people with disability will require too much of my attention

Every employee has their strengths and weaknesses. Every employee has their share of idiosyncrasies that require the individual attention of their managers.

People with disability will require individual attention from their managers from time to time, just as other employees do. It is intrinsic to the notion of reasonable adjustment that managers may have to do things for people with disability that they would not have to do for other employees. In some cases this will mean extra effort, just as some employees without disability can put extra demands on a manager’s time. In most cases the research shows that it imposes no cost other than, perhaps, some care, courtesy and consideration; as the APS Values do for every employee.

It is too difficult and time consuming to alter recruitment processes for applicants with disability

Making reasonable adjustments in the selection process to allow applicants with disability to compete on an even footing is not difficult. It may require a little extra thought when preparing for a selection, but in most cases any necessary adjustments will require only common sense, courtesy and consideration.

As examples, the sort of straightforward adjustments that may be required include ensuring the set-up for work tests does not disadvantage applicants with disability, providing height adjustable furniture, providing selection documents in alternative formats if requested (such as audio cassettes or audio files, large print or Braille), allowing extra time to lodge applications where that is reasonable, or making sure that interview rooms are accessible to applicants with disability.

If people with disability apply for jobs you have advertised, the best way to establish whether you need to make any reasonable adjustments to the selection process is to talk to them. They will usually know exactly what they require in order to present their claims without unfair disadvantage.

On the other hand, failure to make reasonable adjustments during a selection process will expose an employer to the risk of complex and expensive litigation.

Antonia’s story

Antonia is a hip disarticulation amputee—her leg has been amputated from the hip—and uses a wheelchair in the office.

As a person with disability in the workforce, her biggest challenge so far has been finding an employer who was prepared to give her a go.

Prior to winning her job in the APS she had been actively seeking work for several years. Although she had used that time to improve her education and update her skills, she felt that her disability posed a problem with prospective employers.

Of course none of the employers said this, but people give quite a lot away with body language and attitude. I wouldn't tell my prospective employers about my disability until gaining a face–to–face interview as I found when I did disclose information I would not get to that interview.

Off I went to these interviews with the positive thoughts of making my future employers as comfortable with my disability as I was. Knock back after knock back until I found myself at a real low point in my life and could have easily thrown in the towel sat on the lounge and collected disability support pension for the rest of my life.

Antonia started to make real progress towards her goal of employment when she signed up with CRS Australia. With their encouragement she began to apply for jobs in the APS.

While she wasn’t immediately successful at finding an ongoing job, and even missed out on one selection round that involved a very large field of applicants, her performance was good enough for her to be invited to apply for a non-ongoing role in her agency. This time Antonia was successful.

I jumped at the opportunity and was successful; I was on top of the world. I have since moved on from my original role and have become an extremely happy ongoing employee and am grateful that my agency is an equal opportunity employer.

I have been employed since May 06, and loving it, I might add.

What questions can I ask someone about their disability?

APS employees that work with people with disability are often unsure about whether they can ask people with disability about their circumstances and, if so, what questions they can ask. This material has been developed with the assistance of HREOC and provides some pointers to employees about how this issue can be approached in general employment. Further information about managing selection processes for people with disability, and questions that can be asked during selection processes, can be found at Part 2 of this kit.

As an overriding principle, the APS Values and Code of Conduct remind us that the APS promotes equity in employment, and that all APS employees have an obligation to treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment.

Further, people have a general right to privacy about their personal circumstances unless there are good reasons for information to be disclosed. The collection of personal information is regulated by the Privacy Act 1988, which underscores the principle that information should be collected only where there is a proper purpose.

In general employment

APS employees and managers need to be able to talk reasonably and respectfully about relevant disability issues in the workplace. Discussions of this character will be necessary, for example, to:

  • determine whether a person can perform the inherent requirements of a position
  • identify any reasonable adjustments required to be made to support a person in their employment.

APS managers in particular should be mindful to ensure that questions they ask are relevant and appropriate to the legitimate issue they are trying to establish, and canvass the issues properly and objectively; and to ensure that they treat any information they are given with appropriate sensitivity and observance of privacy requirements.

Providing information of this kind is generally voluntary.41 Discussions of this nature are, therefore, more likely to be productive where managers have already created a workplace culture in which employees are comfortable to disclose and discuss their condition.

Collecting statistical data

APS agencies will often ask their employees, typically as part of a general survey of employees or an induction process, to identify whether they have a disability or not. Section 45 of the DD Act specifically permits actions by an employer intended to provide equal employment opportunity to people with disability, and HREOC has indicated that this section may apply to data collection exercises of this kind.

The collection of data of this kind provides useful information for APS employers and should be encouraged. The accurate identification of disability is a first step to ensuring that employees get the support that they need in making their contribution to the organisation, and allows the agency and the APS to monitor the extent to which it is a genuinely diverse, merit-based organisation.

Improving levels of data capture appears to be affected by a number of factors, including:

  • the confidence that individual employees have that the information is not being collected to identify and stigmatise people with disability. In this regard, it may be useful for this material to be requested personally by the Agency Head, or include material from the Agency Head explaining the purposes of the collection, to show the commitment of the agency as a whole to the exercise
  • clarifying the purpose of the data collection so that employees understand that it is being undertaken to support them and also to monitor agency performance rather than for any other purpose
  • improving the level of understanding within the workplace of what amounts to a disability so that employees can accurately self-identify (see below for definition)
  • assuring employees that their information will be managed with a proper level of confidentially
  • repeating the process regularly, perhaps on an annual basis.

The definition of disability for this purpose is not the same as that discussed earlier, that is, the definition set out within the DD Act. The Management Advisory Committee (MAC) noted that:

… while the breadth of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 definition ensures it is conceptually strong and thus appropriate to guide overall policy and direction, it can be difficult to operationalise at the practical process of data collection. It would be difficult, for example, to collect data on disabilities ‘imputed to a person’.

For this reason, agencies are to use the definition of disability adopted by the ABS in its 2003 Disability, Ageing and Carers Survey, to collect data and statistical information from APS employees. That definition provides the basis for the most recent data used by analysts in Australia. Its comprehensiveness and clarity make it easy to use in practice and thus provides the best opportunity to maximise self–reporting.42

The definition developed and used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics43 is as follows:

… a person has a disability if they report that they have a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months and restricts everyday activities. This includes:

  • loss of sight (not corrected by glasses or contact lenses)
  • loss of hearing where communication is restricted, or an aid to assist with, or substitute for, hearing is used
  • speech difficulties
  • shortness of breath or breathing difficulties causing restriction
  • chronic or recurrent pain or discomfort causing restriction
  • blackouts, fits, or loss of consciousness
  • difficulty learning or understanding
  • incomplete use of arms or fingers
  • difficulty gripping or holding things
  • incomplete use of feet or legs
  • nervous or emotional condition causing restriction
  • restriction in physical activities or in doing physical work
  • disfigurement or deformity
  • mental illness or condition requiring help or supervision
  • long–term effects of head injury, stroke or other brain damage causing restriction
  • receiving treatment or medication for any other long-term conditions or ailments and still restricted
  • any other long-term conditions resulting in a restriction.

A suggested form of words for such a collection is at Appendix B.

Who can help us to recruit and support people with disability?

There are a number of organisations that can assist APS agencies to recruit and support people with disability.

JobAccess44 is a free, confidential service that can help you through all stages of the employment process. The JobAccess Advisers can advise you about the full range of government programmes and services available and have particular expertise in workplace modifications and adjustments. 

There are also many employment support organisations that can provide assistance. Funded under the Disability Services Act, these agencies tend to operate in three different spheres, with their client base reflecting different degrees of severity of disability.

Unemployed people with disability are likely to be found registered with one of three different types of employment support agency:

  1. Job Network agencies provide a wide range of people seeking employment, including those with disability that do not require ongoing support or rehabilitation, with job matching services against advertised vacancies.
    APS agencies can advertise vacancies with Job Network agencies by posting those vacancies on the Government’s JobSearch website.45 Some Job Network agencies specialise in finding employment for people with disability. These agencies can be located through the JobSearch website.46
  2. Vocational Rehabilitation Services, such as CRS Australia,47 help people with an injury or disability to manage their health condition, develop job skills and get a job. Post placement support is provided for six months after placement in employment. Services, including job matching and post placement support, are tailored to the individual job seeker's needs.
  3. Disability Employment Network agencies specialise in helping people with disability to find work in the open labour market. They provide both pre-employment and ongoing post-placement support, typically to people with mild to moderate disability.

Each of these networks has its own ‘database’ of clients, and each is accessible by APS agencies that choose to use them. In almost all cases these services are provided to employers at no cost.

Vacancies can also be advertised nationally through the Disability Employment Network, and with Vocational Rehabilitation Services, by providing details to the National Disability Recruitment Co-ordinator (NDRC).48 Vacancies notified to the NDRC will be referred throughout the network across Australia.

Many of these agencies are also able to work closely with APS agencies to develop in partnership with them specific strategies such as work trials to support the employment of people with disability, provide advice on modifications to the workplace, and even provide advice on modifying selection processes to make them more accessible to people with disability.

Contact details for agencies in different parts of Australia are also available from JobSearch.49

3 http://www.apsc.gov.au/mac/disability.htm

4 MAC is a forum of Secretaries and heads of major agencies chaired by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It advises the Government on matters relating to the management of the APS.

5 Management Advisory Committee (2006), Employment of People with Disability in the APS

6 The assumption here is that that person is also otherwise the most strongly ranked candidate arising from an open, competitive selection process.

7 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Advice/Search

8 http://www.centrelink.gov.au/internet/internet.nsf/payments/mobility.htm

9 http://www.ato.gov.au/individuals/content.asp?doc=/content/13098.htm&pc=001/002/060/001/002&mnu=&mfp=&st=&cy=1

10 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Employers/Employer+incentives/Workplace_Modifications_S.htm

11 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/News/New_AFE_Programme.htm

12 http://www.healthoz.com.au/

13 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Employers/Getting+advice+and+support/ProvidersofAustralianGovtEmploymentServices.htm

14 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Advice/Search/

15 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Advice/JobAccessAdvisers/

16 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Advice/Disability/

17 http://www.jan.wvu.edu/media/atoz.htm

18 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/ServiceProviders/Employer+incentives/supportedwagesystem.htm

19 This is not limited to people with intellectual disability. The Supported Wage System applies to certain people with disability generally but, as a matter of practice, in the APS it may be most applicable to people with intellectual disability. Agencies should also refer to the arrangements set out in their own certified agreements for more detail on how this scheme works.

20 http://www.dice.org.au/

22 Andrews G et al, The Mental Health of Australians, Department of Health and Aged Care, 1999. It should be noted however, that the figure arrived at in that paper is inflated by the inclusion of people with substance use disorders, and the use of a definition of disability that is broader than that used either by the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the Disability Discrimination Act.

23 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Employers/Disabilities+and+work+strategies/MentalHealthFirstAid.htm

24 Other conditions include dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, central auditory processing disorder, visual perceptual/visual motor deficit, nonverbal learning disorders and language disorders.

26 http://www.ldanatl.org/

27 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/joac/Templates/DisabilityCategory.aspx?NRMODE=Published&NRNODEGUID=%7B07394E8B-8367-4F7B-9EE0-74ED4F750CB8%7D&NRORIGINALURL=%2Fjoac%2FAdvice%2FDisabilityThree%2FSpecific_learning_dsabil.htm&NRCACHEHINT=Guest

28 http://www.jan.wvu.edu/media/LD.html

29 Jobaccess: http://www.jobaccess.gov.au

30 Hendricks, D.J. et al, Cost and Effectiveness of Accommodations in the Workplace: Preliminary Results of a Nationwide Study: Disability Studies Quarterly (2005).

31 Graffam,J., Shinkfield, A., Smith,K., & Polzin, U. (2002b) Employer benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 17

32 Noble, J. (1999) Entrepreneurial Research Project, Telstra Australia.

33 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Employers/Employer+incentives/Workplace_Modifications_S.htm

34 Graffam,J., Shinkfield, A., Smith,K., & Polzin, U. (2002b) Employer benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 17

35 Australian Safety and Compensation Council, Are People with Disability at Risk at Work? A Review of the Evidence.

36 Du Pont Corporation [USA], Equal to the task; Zivolivh and Millard, Journal of Staffing and Recruitment, Spring 1990

37 Noble, J. (1999) Entrepreneurial Research Project, Telstra Australia.

38 Graffam,J., Shinkfield, A., Smith,K., & Polzin, U. (2002b) Employer benefits and costs of employing a person with a disability. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 17

39 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Employers/Employer+incentives/SupportedWageSystem.htm

40 Answer adapted from The SANE Guide to Mental Illness for the Workplace, SANE Australia, 2005, p.18

41 In some circumstances, e.g. where there are occupational health and safety issues that need to be addressed, the disclosure of a relevant disability may be mandatory.

42 Management Advisory Committee 2006, Employment of People with Disability in the APS

44 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/joac/home

45 https://jobsearch.gov.au/Login/Login.aspx?WHCode=0

46 http://jobsearch.gov.au/public/providers/jnss/

48 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Employers/Getting+advice+and+support/NDRC.htm

49 http://jobsearch.gov.au/public/providers/generic/default.aspx?provider=DOE

Last reviewed: 
6 June 2018