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Part 3: Better practice strategies

In its 2006 report Employment of People with Disability in the APS63 the Management Advisory Committee (MAC) formulated a series of objectives to support the employment of people with disability in the APS, and identified a number of better practice strategies that individual agencies might consider in meeting them.

Using the framework that those objectives provide, this part of the toolkit provides examples of strategies and practical initiatives that agencies can implement to improve the way that they recruit, retain, and develop employees with disability.

The examples of strategies and initiatives by particular APS agencies referred to in the section are drawn primarily from those agencies that participated in the evaluation that led to the development of this toolkit.

A checklist of strategies for HR professionals is included at Appendix A.

Promoting a disability aware culture

MAC objective 1: A culture that values diversity and actively promotes the employment of people with disability.

What can we do?

Leaders play the key role in setting workplace culture. Senior leaders and line managers are responsible for ensuring that people in their workplaces understand their responsibilities under the APS Values, including the obligation that the Values place on all employees to help ensure that APS workplaces are free from discrimination and recognise and utilise the diversity of the Australian community.

Questacon (the National Science and Technology Centre) is a small agency with a mix of ongoing, non-ongoing and casual employees, and volunteers, and a greater percentage of employees with disability than the APS average. Staff interviewed for this project described the culture at Questacon as highly supportive of diversity in general and people with disability in particular—a place where flexible work practices are not merely talked about, but put into practice. This was attributed in large part to visible support for diversity by the present and former leadership team. These views illustrate the influence that leadership can exert on the tone of an organisation’s culture and on how an agency is perceived by the people who work there.

Leaders are also responsible for ensuring that people they manage understand their obligations under the APS Code of Conduct, including the obligations to behave with honesty, integrity, respect and courtesy towards their colleagues and people in the community.

1. Walk the talk

One way in which leaders and managers can promote a workplace culture based on the Values is to openly demonstrate their own commitment to the principles they represent. This means modelling high standards of ethical behaviour, but managers can also promote messages about the Values more actively.

For example, a manager might look for opportunities to promote discussion about workplace diversity, and to explain why it is important not only to respect diversity when dealing with individuals, but also to draw on a diverse range of views and experience to achieve better outcomes for the agency and the community. 

Managers also have a responsibility to intervene to ‘shut down’ discussions and actions inconsistent with the Values. Their own behaviour is relevant to their credibility and authority.

Managers can illustrate their real commitment to supporting a diverse workforce by ensuring that people in their area who have disclosed disability are provided with the tools and the support they need to do their job effectively. With the person’s consent, this may include arranging for awareness raising or training about particular issues for the person’s co-workers.

When vacancies arise in their area, managers can demonstrate their commitment to diversity by ensuring that jobs are advertised inclusively and that selection processes treat applicants with disability fairly.

2. Promote the Values

Managers wishing to promote awareness and knowledge of the APS Values among their employees can draw on a range of products produced by the Commission, accessible on the Commission’s website.

These include:

  • APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads (2005)
  • Embedding the APS Values (2003)
  • Guidelines on Workplace Diversity (2001)
  • Respect: Promoting a Culture free from Harassment and Bullying in the APS (2006)

The Commission has also produced a package of training materials that agencies can purchase, called Being Professional in the APS—Values Resources for Facilitators. The package enables APS agencies (or their agents) to build their own programmes that will guide employees in decision-making and workplace discussion of the APS Values and the Code of Conduct.

3. Promote the issues

Many agencies promote and support events such as International Day of People with Disability.64 Senior managers can send strong messages about how important they think the issues highlighted by such events are by endorsing and promoting these events to their senior colleagues and staff, and by making time to attend.

Agencies can also make use of internal communication tools, such as newsletters or the Intranet, to publish articles about disability-related issues and feature positive images of, and stories about, people with disability.

4. Get the message into the mainstream

Agencies should consider integrating issues pertinent to the employment of people with disability into ‘mainstream’ policies and procedures.

Workforce planning processes, for example, cannot ignore trends such as the ageing of the Australian population and the tightening of the labour market. Attracting and retaining employees with disability should be an important component of agencies’ strategies in response to these trends.

Systematic workforce planning processes enable agencies to understand their own workforce demographics, identify the capabilities and organisational structure needed to meet future commitments, and put in place integrated human resource management strategies to meet those commitments. Key factors to take into account in this context include:

  • whether the agency has access to good data on the number, demographic characteristics and career aspirations of existing staff with disability and on the reasons why staff with disability choose to leave the agency
  • whether the organisational structure aligns with strategies to increase workforce participation of people with disability, e.g. whether there is scope to redesign jobs to better support those strategies, provide opportunities for people with disability, and make better use of existing resources.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, as part of its workplace diversity strategy, promotes and champions workplace diversity to all employees as an integral part of business and workforce planning.

Likewise, it makes good sense to build awareness of issues relevant to employing and managing people with disability into recruitment and selection policies and systems for managing individual performance.

In the Department of Families Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, guidelines for the performance management system refer to reasonable accommodation and provide contact details for the Department’s Disability Access Coordinator, whose role includes influencing the development of corporate policies.

The Defence Workplace Equity and Diversity Plan sets out action plans for various levels of management, including specific actions in relation to disability. The plan includes ‘annual performance questions’ against each action, to assist with reporting requirements. For example, the plan asks Commanders and Managers ‘what have you done to ensure that your workplace is fair, safe and inclusive, where the different skills and contributions that personnel possess as a result of their background, experiences and perspective, are utilised where appropriate?’

The performance of the services and groups is reported in the Workplace Equity and Diversity Annual Report. While the actions in the plan are not directly linked to individual performance agreements, issues identified in the report can be raised in that context.

5. Monitor progress

Agencies need to be able to measure the level of people with disability in their workforce and track how that percentage changes in response to the initiatives they put in place. This issue is discussed in more detail in 'Using a consistent conceptual framework' in this toolkit. Agencies may find it particularly useful to track the following trend information:

  • percentage of their workforce that identifies as having a disability
  • distribution of employees that identify as having a disability by classification level against a similar profile for their employees generally.

This may be augmented by information that has regard to other factors such as levels of education, length of employment in the APS, and length of time at particular classifications.

Attracting and recruiting people with disability

MAC objective 2: Flexible recruitment strategies that are accessible to applicants with disability

APS agencies should position themselves as employers of choice for the diverse Australian community and ensure that their recruitment practices give everyone, including people with disability, the opportunity to compete for jobs fairly and without either direct or indirect discrimination.

What can we do?

1. Consider how and where jobs are advertised

People with disability—particularly those with a visual or other disability that may make it difficult to access print or online advertisements available only in PDF format—often rely on their own networks to learn of vacancies.

In order to reach potential applicants with disability, some employers, including the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, have arranged to forward all vacancies to Disability Works Australia for distribution to Disability Employment Network providers and Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

Agencies should also consider notifying vacancies on JobSearch.65 JobSearch is one of Australia’s largest online job boards allowing job seekers, including job seekers with disability, to search for job vacancies nationally.

Wherever agencies place their ads, they may wish to consider including references to diversity, or specific references to disability, in the wording of their job advertising.

The Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs advise prospective applicants that:

The range and nature of work in the Department requires a workforce that reflects our diverse society. We welcome applications from Indigenous Australians, people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and people with disability. We are committed to providing an environment that values diversity and supports all staff to reach their full potential. If you have individual requirements that need to be accommodated in order to participate in an interview, please indicate this in your application.

2. Review selection processes

Agencies may wish to consider reviewing their selection procedures to ensure that they do not discourage people with disability from applying for jobs in the agency, or indirectly discriminate against them during the selection process.

Relevant points for consideration include:

  • Does the agency’s approach to developing selection documents result in material that attracts applicants with disability?66 For example:
    • Are documents written in plain English and as concise and free of jargon as possible?
    • Are the duties of the position set out clearly and simply?
    • Are the selection criteria realistic and relevant to the inherent requirements of the job?
    • Is the documentation available in different formats to allow broad access?
  • Does guidance provided to selection panels and delegates make reference to reasonable adjustment and provide for appropriate flexibility? This issue has been discussed at length earlier in this kit, but examples of initiatives include:
    • allowing for people with disability to be given reasonable time to lodge applications and allowing applications to be accepted in different formats
    • highlighting that direct testing methods may need to be adjusted in some cases so as to not unfairly disadvantage applicants with disability.

In reviewing procedures, agencies may find the Commission’s Get It Right67 kit on selections a useful resource.

Agencies may also wish to consider whether staff involved in selection exercises are provided with the right level of training on selection processes. This could include issues such as the application of merit and the diverse needs of applicants, including those with disability (see Part 2 of this kit for more information about training).

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has a policy that staff must undertake general selections training offered by the Commission before they can participate in selection exercises. This training includes advice concerning applicants that identify as having a disability.

Further information on this training can be obtained from the nearest office of the Commission. Contact details are available on the Commission’s website.68

Further information and advice about recruitment processes and people with disability is set out in Part 1 and Part 2 of this toolkit.

3. Develop specific policies on disability employment

Under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy69 (CDS) agencies have an obligation to ensure that their employment policies and procedures comply with the DD Act. Agencies have a range of other obligations as employers under the CDS, including ensuring that agency recruiters and managers apply the principle of 'reasonable adjustment', that the ongoing employment of people with disability includes some capacity to support the individual's changing needs and ability to pursue a career path, and that workplace strategies are in place to address attitudes inhibiting people with disability from securing and maintaining employment.

Under the Public Service Act, agencies are required to establish workplace diversity programmes that include measures to ensure, among other things, equity in employment is promoted and upheld, through transparent and fair employment decisions and eliminating any employment-related disadvantage on the basis of disability.

To ensure these obligations are met, agencies could consider developing specific policies relating to the employment of people with disability.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has a policy that staff must undertake general selections training offered by the Commission before they can participate in selection exercises. This training includes advice concerning applicants that identify as having a disability.

In 2006, the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs introduced a new Policy for the Recruitment and Retention of People with Disability.

The policy notes that the department’s principles, policies and resources relating to people with disability are not about providing special treatment but about ensuring merit and equity based access to jobs, resources and benefits for all employees.

Specific measures in the policy include:

  • establishing links with universities to make graduates with disability aware of opportunities in the department
  • identifying and participating in relevant events, such as career expos and International Day of People with Disability
  • establishing close contacts with community and peak bodies to raise the department’s profile as an employer
  • publicising the support available to potential job applicants with disability in recruitment literature and making sure the department’s promotional material in general reflects its diverse workforce
  • submitting all vacancies to the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (Disability Works Australia70) which provides employers with access to a single contact point for recruiting people with disability
  • writing job advertisements in a way that focuses on the inherent requirements of the job and encourages people with disability to apply, e.g. through reference to reasonable adjustments and by providing contact details for the department’s Disability Access Coordinator (where relevant—see Supporting managers and building their capability for an example of how such a role can work in practice)
  • providing information and advice to staff involved in interviewing for jobs on disability issues, such as the reasonable adjustments that can be arranged to facilitate equitable participation in selection processes
  • ensuring that external recruitment providers are aware of the department’s diversity commitments and policies including reasonable adjustment
  • providing information about disability issues to all new employees as part of the induction process
  • making relevant reasonable adjustments prior to a person with disability commencing work; monitoring and evaluating the adjustments on an ongoing basis; and consulting with the relevant individual when assessing adjustments
  • consulting and informing co-workers about reasonable adjustments where the changes will impact on them in the workplace
  • consulting and taking into account the needs of people with disability, e.g. when upgrading facilities, revising procedures, such as fire evacuation procedures, and arranging work and social events
  • making employees with disability aware of the department’s internal support networks as well as promoting external support services, e.g. employee assistance programmes
  • providing employees with disability with the same opportunities as other employees to participate in career development activities and opportunities, e.g. by including information about reasonable adjustment in material relating to promotion opportunities and making such information available in alternative formats on request
  • ensuring that the promotion of learning and development programmes includes information about their accessibility to people with disability and taking into account the requirements of people with disability in the design and delivery of programmes
  • arranging awareness programmes and training for all staff in order to promote an inclusive culture where people with disability are valued and treated equitably.
4. Ensure that recruitment agencies are properly briefed

Some APS agencies contract external recruitment agencies to conduct selections on their behalf.

It is important for APS agencies that do so to ensure that recruitment agencies they use abide by the APS agency’s policies and procedures, are fully conversant with the APS Values relating to employment, and encourage and support applicants with disability. Agencies should ensure that contractual arrangements with recruitment agencies clearly set out these expectations.

It is good practice for APS agencies to maintain a contact point in their agency that an applicant with disability can contact if they feel that they are not being dealt with properly in the course of the selection process.

Centrelink makes adherence to the agency’s workplace diversity and disability policies a key criterion for selecting recruitment providers and this requirement is written into contractual arrangements.

5. Develop links with specialist organisations

Agencies may wish to consider developing links with organisations specialising in placing people with disability in employment, including the Disability Employment Network, the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (see box below), strategic service providers, disability liaison officers in universities71 and lobby groups.

The Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs:

  • notifies the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator, Disability Works Australia, of all advertised vacancies in the department, for distribution through its networks
  • sends information about graduate opportunities to disability recruitment coordinators in universities
  • has developed links with a number of specialist placement agencies.

The National Disability Recruitment Coordinator (currently Disability Works Australia72 (DWA)) offers a single point of contact for the recruitment of employees with disability.

The Coordinator is also able to link agencies with Disability Employment Network members and Vocational Rehabilitation services and help agencies establish a working relationship with them.

Referral and advice services are free to APS employers. Job vacancies can be forwarded to DWA for distribution to Disability Employment Network (DEN) providers and Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS). Agencies then receive enquires direct from DEN, VRS and Job Network members, as well as referrals of possible candidates.

DWA is also available to provide a range of services to agencies on a fee-for-service basis, including reviewing recruitment processes and developing strategies to increase employment of people with disability, job design, job-matching, pre-screening of applicants, placement services and disability awareness training.

DWA has worked with a number of State and Territory public sectors, including the South Australian, Northern Territory and Victorian Governments to assist in developing strategies to increase the level of employment of people with disability.

Several State public services work with DWA to facilitate the employment of people with disability on short-term contracts. Non-ongoing employment can be a good way of gaining valuable workplace experience for people with disability and provide a pathway to ongoing employment.



Mentoring and training people with disability



MAC objective 3: Accessible training, cadetship and mentoring opportunities for people with disability

What can we do?

Agencies should consider providing access to training opportunities and work experience in the APS to appropriately qualified applicants with disability. This gives them an opportunity to gain practical experience in conjunction with their studies and allows them to be more competitive for jobs in the APS on completion of their studies.

1. Provide work experience and training schemes

As well as providing opportunities for people with disability, training schemes benefit agencies, helping them to address skills shortages in particular fields by encouraging qualified people with disability to apply for those skilled vacancies on completion of the training scheme.

Under the Public Service Regulations, agencies are able to put in place training schemes to engage people on a non-ongoing basis to gain skills and experience to assist them to participate in the workforce.

Centrelink has developed a work experience programme for students and graduates with disability.

2. Use or develop mentoring programmes

The Government funds a range of mentoring programmes to assist young people in making the transition to work. Some, including the Willing and Able Mentoring Program,73 specifically cater to students with disability, matching university students with mentors in appropriate sectors and providing support to both mentors and students through briefing sessions.

The Willing and Able Mentoring Program (WAM) was established through a collaboration between Deakin University and the University of Melbourne in 2000.

It is available for any job seeker or tertiary student who has a disability dependent on funding support. The programme matches job seekers or tertiary students who have a disability with mentors in leading organisations in the job seekers’/students' field of interest for a series of approximately eight discussions. These discussions concentrate on acclimatising students to the work environment and strategies that will better equip them to compete for jobs in their chosen field.

WAM was successfully piloted for general job seekers who have a disability in 2005 with support from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, and is now available for job seekers who have a disability on a fee for service basis through Job Network or Disability Employment Network services.

3. Consider special graduate recruitment programmes

The ACT Government successfully used the services of Disability Works Australia in its 2006 graduate recruitment campaign. The target for the campaign was for 50 per cent of the successful graduates to be people with disability.

The advertisement for ACT graduate positions encouraged persons with disability to apply and to contact Disability Works Australia to access an alternative application process. ‘Online’ advertisements incorporated links to Disability Works Australia’s website. Disability Works Australia also distributed the advertisements through its own networks, encouraging the Disability Employment Network to identify suitably qualified applicants.

Disability Works Australia interviewed each applicant with disability and prepared profiles of suitably qualified candidates, outlining the reasonable adjustments that would need to be made to the recruitment processes and the workplace modifications they would require, if successful. A Disability Works Australia representative also attended the assessment centre to address any unanticipated accessibility issues that might arise during the recruitment procedures.

The outcome of the process was that applicants with disability supported by the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator successfully competed, on merit, with applicants without disability. Seven people in a total intake of 17, or 41 per cent identified as having a disability.

In the APS, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations used the services of the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator in its 2006 graduate recruitment programme. Four applicants with disability, who had registered with Disability Works Australia, were employed in the 2006 intake.

Employing people with intellectual disability

MAC objective 4: Special employment measures to employ people with intellectual disability

What can we do?

APS agencies have a significant role to play in increasing the participation of people with intellectual disability in employment, including setting an example for other employment sectors by putting in place initiatives to employ people with intellectual disability.

1. Use special employment measures

Agencies may wish to consider developing strategies to employ people with intellectual disability, as part of their workplace diversity programmes, for example, by utilising the special employment measures (under clause 4.2(6)(b)(ii) of the Public Service Commissioner’s Directions74).

Special measures provisions are available to assist individuals from a recognisable group to achieve employment outcomes. They enable non-SES employment opportunities to be advertised as restricted to applicants who have an intellectual disability. The use of this provision is only available for people with an intellectual disability and cannot be used, more broadly, to target potential employees with disability.

For more information see Commission Circular 2006/6.75

2. Use the Supported Wage System

When agencies are developing strategies to employ people with intellectual disability, it may, in some cases, be appropriate to consider the use of the Supported Wage System.76 This system is discussed in more detail in 'Creating a supportive work environment' in this toolkit.

Making workplaces accessible

MAC objective 5: Accessible premises, workplaces and supportive work environments for people with disability

APS agencies should ensure that their premises can be readily accessed by people with disability and that people with disability working in agencies have access to the tools and information they need to do their jobs effectively.

What can we do?

1. Talk to the experts about access requirements

The Building Code of Australia77 administered by the Australian Building Codes Board78 contains technical provisions for the design and construction of buildings and other structures, covering a range of matters including access and egress.

Complying with the Building Code of Australia, or other local planning regulations, however, does not necessarily mean premises will comply with the requirements of the DDA. Section 23 of the DDA makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of disability in providing access to or use of premises that the public can enter or use.

In order to provide consistency between the building law and the requirements of the DDA, a draft Access to Premises Standard is being developed. HREOC is a member of the committee which has been established to develop the draft Standard.79 HREOC is able to provide more information about the ongoing process of development.

In the meantime, agencies have to make their own decisions about what, in their particular circumstances, amounts to access at a level sufficient to meet their responsibilities under the DDA.

HREOC has compiled Advisory Notes on Access to Premises80 setting out its views about the meaning and application of Section 23 of the DDA, to which agencies may refer for more information.

Additionally, the Department of Human Services, in conjunction with a range of disability bodies and HREOC, has developed an Access to Premises Checklist81 for providers of Job Capacity Assessments. The information in the checklist may also assist APS agencies to ensure that their premises provide appropriate access for people with disability.

Agencies may also have regard to Australian Standard 1428.1-200182 Design for access and mobility—General requirements for access—New building work, which specifies the design requirements applicable to new building work, excluding work to private residences, to provide access for people with disability.

This is a complex area, and agencies may wish to consider retaining access consultants to advise them on building access standards. Agencies wishing to do so may find it useful to contact ACA Australia,83 a membership-based professional association which is the peak national body for access consultancy.

2. Talk to people with disability about access requirements

As HREOC emphasises in its Advisory Notes on Access to Premises, consultation with people with a range of disabilities and access experts is an essential part of achieving the objects of the DDA.

Whether agencies are designing new premises or reviewing their existing premises deciding whether modifications are necessary to ensure an accessible work environment, a better outcome will be achieved if people with disability are consulted throughout the process.

During the design and construction of its new office accommodation, Centrelink consulted extensively, including with people with disability. As a result, many issues were identified for consideration beyond obvious things such as ramps and car parking spaces. These issues included access to taps, bench heights, carpeting and floor coverings, toilet facilities, signage, and movement between various segments of the building. The agency considers this process of consultation to have been crucial to the success of the construction.

3. Talk to new employees about reasonable adjustment

Agencies should make it their practice for managers to discuss the requirements of new employees with disability at the earliest opportunity, preferably before the employee commences work in the agency so that any necessary modifications or equipment are in place before the employee arrives.

Centrelink’s offer of engagement letter sets out the agency’s commitment to ensuring its workforce represents the community at large and that its employees are supported to achieve their maximum potential. It encourages prospective employees from diverse backgrounds, with dependent care responsibilities, and/or with disability, to record this information on the agency’s HRM system when they commence work, explaining why the information is requested. The letter asks people who identify as having a disability and require any adjustments to be made or specific equipment to be provided, to advise Centrelink so that a workplace assessment can be arranged prior to commencement to ensure all reasonable and necessary adjustments can be made.

4. Seek expert advice if required

A person with disability is often best placed to advise what modifications and/or equipment they require, but it may also be appropriate for managers to seek the assistance of specialist staff within the agency, such as a disability coordinator or HR representative, or external expertise, such as a specialist placement agency or an occupational therapist.

In the Department of the Treasury, reasonable adjustment is applied in consultation with the employee, their manager and an occupational therapist.

The Workplace Adjustment Tool84 available on the JobAccess website can also assist agencies to ensure that the reasonable adjustment needs of staff with disability are met. The Workplace Adjustment Tool allows users to search for ideas on how to make a workplace more accessible for people with disability, based on the type of job being undertaken, a particular disability, a type of product or a particular supplier.

In some cases, agencies may also wish to consider using the Workplace Modifications Scheme.85 This scheme covers the costs involved in modifying the workplace or purchasing special or adaptive equipment for eligible employees with disability. It is also available to existing employees if they have had a change in duties, career progression, change in disability and/or a new modification becomes available that would increase their productivity.

Agencies may find it useful to create a central fund to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace and provide other support for employees with disability attending learning and development activities.

5. Monitor the needs of existing staff

Agencies should also be mindful to ensure that existing employees with disability have the access they require to premises and equipment.

In addition to individual managers monitoring the needs of their staff, agencies could consider undertaking more systematic reviews, in consultation with employees with disability and with the assistance of organisations such as the Disability Employment Network and/or the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator, of the reasonable adjustment needs of existing employees with disability.

Deborah’s story

Deborah started her career in the APS in 1971. Since then she has found that her co-workers and team members have been very supportive when she has needed their help to manage the impact that her cerebral palsy has in the workplace.

She started with her current agency in 1991, working in a small regional office, after staying with her first employer for twenty years.

Some of the things that have been done there show the benefit of lateral thinking to help accommodate her disability. For example:

  • when her office was refitted she was nominated to go on the refit committee to make sure that the refitted office would be accessible for her as well as the agency’s customers with disability
  • her agency supplied a normal wheelchair to get from the basement carpark to the office which saves her from having to lift her chair in and out of the car each day
  • her agency also paid towards an electric scooter that she uses at work during the day around the office and to go out in at lunch breaks
  • her agency set up her work station with her own printer/copier to save her having to get up and down to the other printers, as well as providing an electric stapler and special chair
  • her co workers help her get forms and other documents to hand out when she’s conducting a client interview.

Changing job and moving was a huge step for Deborah to take 

… considering I was leaving my comfort zone in Sydney and moving to a country town and a totally new employer, but I was given the same respect and if it were possible more assistance than I had received with my previous employer.

In saying that I think it was because people realised that I didn't take more help than was necessary and gave back where I could.

6. Ensure information communication strategies are inclusive

Agencies should examine their information and communication strategies to ensure that they are inclusive of employees with disability. This includes ensuring that employees with disability are able to participate fully in large meetings, conferences, training courses and other events, for example providing induction loops in major meeting rooms, ensuring that off-site training centres also meet access requirements.

Agencies should also consider the formats in which they make material available to employees in both hard copy and electronic form. Further information on appropriate formats for blind or vision-impaired people is available from Blind Citizens Australia.86

In the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, employees are asked to identify any special needs when they sign up for development opportunities.

7. Make sure the systems work for everyone

Incompatible adaptive technology, and upgrades to information technology platforms which fail to take account of the adaptive technologies that are to run on those platforms, can result in a significant decline in the productivity of employees with disability who rely on those technologies.

Developing a structured approach to the purchase and deployment of information and communications technology support for adaptive technology will reduce the need for agencies to make changes that incur additional expenses for IT solutions later on. In developing such an approach, agencies are encouraged to use the Assistive Technology for Employees of Australian Government87 Better Practice Checklist, produced by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO).

It may also be useful for larger agencies to have an IT person with a dedicated role, or build disability issues into the agenda for IT committees. Where there is a network of employees with disability in the agency, it will be useful to consult with them and with known users of adaptive technology about access issues.

Centrelink has formed an Office of Access Technology to ensure accessibility and compatibility is considered in relation to all software and hardware.

Kate’s story

Kate is an employee of a large Commonwealth department and has a hearing impairment. Most of the time it’s not a problem for her in the workplace, and she and her colleagues work together effectively.

Recently, however, she has had some difficulty dealing with IT staff in her agency about computer problems: when she sent them an email asking for help they would often telephone her to discuss her problems even though she had indicated that she had a hearing impairment and asked for them to respond by email.

Even though she has some hearing, these calls caused problems for Kate because she often would have some trouble working out who she was speaking to and what they were calling about, and couldn’t hear/understand enough to be able to answer questions and follow instructions. As a consequence, the issue was often only partly resolved or not resolved at all.

Sometimes the people calling her were aware that she had a hearing impairment but phoned anyway.

After one particularly complicated and frustrating issue came up, Kate approached her agency management and explained the situation to them. She suggested that:

  • a dedicated person within the IT section be appointed to deal with communications with hearing-impaired staff
  • this person should have a clear speaking voice so that issues could be handled over the phone where possible
  • this person have access to Microsoft Communicator (a software package that allows users to conduct real time conversations via text) so that communication could take place that way where necessary.

This approach was adopted within the agency and Kate reports that it has been very successful for her.

8. Make websites accessible

Many people interested in finding employment in the APS, including people with disability, visit agency websites to get information about available opportunities.

It is important for agencies to ensure that their websites are accessible to people with disability. The Guide to Minimum Website Standards,88 produced by AGIMO, can assist agencies in this regard. This guide brings together information from a variety of sources. The section on accessibility is provided by HREOC.

The HREOC document, World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes,89 referred to in the Guide, is also a useful reference.

The guide recommends that agencies develop appropriate strategies to ensure that their sites are tested for accessibility/usability by users with disability, which may involve working with companies that enlist groups of users as part of the website testing services that they offer. HREOC is able to provide contact details for a number of web accessibility consultants.

The Department of Defence contracted Vision Australia to do a training-needs analysis and develop and deliver training for webmasters in the department to promote the design of websites that are compliant with World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) web content accessibility guidelines.90

Creating a supportive work environment

APS agencies should ensure that their workplace policies and practices are sufficiently flexible to enable all employees, including those with disability, to contribute as effectively as they can to their agency, and to achieve an appropriate work–life balance.

What can we do?

1. Make use of flexible work practices

A wide range of flexible work practices are used in the APS, with the workplace diversity plans and collective and individual agreements of many agencies incorporating options for flexible arrangements such as home-based work, job-sharing, part-time work, flexible working hours and purchased leave.

These arrangements can benefit all employees. However, they can be particularly beneficial for employees with disability, including those who have difficulty physically accessing workplaces, those experiencing episodic illness and those whose disability makes extended work hours difficult.

Agencies, in consultation with employees with disability and other key stakeholders, are encouraged to review their collective agreements, AWAs and workplace diversity plans to ensure they encourage and support flexible working practices that allow all employees, including employees with disability, to realise their full potential.

In putting flexible working arrangements into practice for people with disability, managers should talk to employees with disability about any reasonable adjustments needed to address their particular circumstances. Generally, it would be expected that the arrangements covering all employees would provide sufficient flexibility to support the needs of people with disability and be set out in the agency’s collective agreement.

It is, of course, also open to agencies to enter into AWAs with their employees. The use of an individual agreement, tailored to the specific circumstances of the person with disability may provide benefits to both the employer and employee.

Karen’s story

Karen has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident when she was fifteen, and has been working in the APS for almost ten years, including in a team leader role in her agency for the last six years.

Overall, she says that her experiences as a person with a disability in the Public Service have been positive but there have been some difficult times over things that should have been easy.

For example, the back of her wheelchair broke which meant that she had to go into the city to get it repaired. First, however, she came into work to rearrange coaching for her team before taking care of the damage.

Somewhere along the line some wires got crossed. Instead of being granted personal leave—which is what would have happened if she had, for example, broken her leg—to go to Melbourne to get it fixed, Karen was asked to take this on recreation or flex leave. It took a week, including getting advice from Head Office, before personal leave was granted. 

Karen felt that she was not being treated in the same way that other staff were, that she wasn’t valued or her situation understood properly despite having worked in the same place for so long. It was a small thing, but it should have been dealt with properly and quickly.

Even so, Karen says that her experiences as an employee with disability in the APS have been positive overall.

….overall my experiences have been positive, and the issues that do arise can be dealt with using a little common sense and awareness of the issues.

In addition to these formal arrangements, agencies need to make sure that managers understand the benefits of flexible work practices to the agency as a whole and are confident they will have the backing of more senior management in supporting the use of flexible work practices by their staff.

The Supported Wage System

While most people with disability who participate in the open workforce do so at full rates of pay, there are some people who are unable to work at full wage rates due to the effect of disability on their workplace productivity. With the Supported Wage System91 eligible people with disability can access a process of productivity-based wage assessment to determine fair pay for fair work. The Supported Wage System pays for wage assessments conducted by independent assessors, so that there is no cost to the employer.

Agencies’ collective workplace agreements generally provide for payment of supported salary rates and set out the criteria for eligibility.

The Jobacess92 website includes a step-by-step guide to applying for the Supported Wage System and Jobaccess advisers93 can provide more information on request.

Where collective agreements are not sufficiently flexible, consideration may need to be given to using an AWA to tailor a flexible work arrangement on an individual basis. In establishing an AWA agencies should ensure employees with disability are provided with appropriate support and the package of conditions offered to employees with disability is not less than that offered to employees without disability. In designing appropriate AWAs, agencies may wish to seek assistance from the Office of the Employment Advocate.94

2. Create advocacy roles

One of the ways in which agencies can encourage a culture supporting employees with disability is to provide avenues for their views to be heard. Although the main responsibility rests with managers, agencies should also consider identifying an advocate, preferably a senior manager, to support employees with disability to ensure they receive ‘a fair go’.

An appointee of this nature would need to be committed to representing people with disability, understand the practical issues that confront them, be approachable, understand the diverse nature of disability and be committed to genuine and constructive communication and negotiation, on a regular basis, with agency employees with disability.

This need not be a full-time appointment, but the importance of the role to the agency would need to be formally recognised, for example incorporated into the advocate’s performance management arrangements.

In the Department of Families Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Disability Access Coordinator is a dedicated position, whose role includes influencing the development of corporate policies and providing education and support to managers, and advocacy for staff with disability. The department’s commitment to the role is reflected in its Certified Agreement.

3. Provide equitable access to development opportunities

APS employees with disability report experiencing fewer opportunities to participate in specialised leadership development programmes, placement and mobility options inside their agency, and mentoring and personal sponsorship opportunities, than do employees without disability. In addition, employees with disability are more likely to disagree that merit is routinely applied in the temporary assignment of higher duties.

Agencies should encourage managers to hold discussions about learning and development opportunities with employees with disability during the performance management process. Critically, they should not assume that employees with disability are not as interested in development and career advancement as other employees without disability.

If the cost of adaptations required to access learning and development opportunities is seen as a barrier to participation, agencies could consider establishing a central fund for reasonable adjustments for staff with disability.

4. Support the higher education aspirations of employees with disability

Fewer employees with disability have bachelor level degrees and significantly more have vocational qualifications than people without disability. Students with disability face difficulties in accessing higher education which include problems accessing adaptive technologies, the need to provide assessments in different formats and the need for extra time to complete those assessments.

Agencies can improve the competitiveness of employees with disability by supporting and encouraging them to upgrade their qualifications.

One practical step agencies can take to support employees with disability in this context is to review study assistance schemes to ensure they provide sufficient study leave for staff with disability and allow access to adaptive technologies, for example, by providing equipment for their use at home.

Supporting managers and building their capability

MAC objective 6: Reduced complexity, cost and risk for managers employing people with disability

APS agencies should ensure that managers in their organisations have the knowledge, skills and support they need to recruit and manage people from the diverse Australian community that the APS serves, including people with disability.

What can we do?

1. Provide managers with access to information and expertise

Many managers are concerned that employing people with disability is complex, time consuming and expensive. To address these concerns, agencies should ensure that managers have ready access to a source of information and expertise, such as the material in this toolkit, within the agency and/or ready access to external sources of information and assistance.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has created a website and information line called Jobaccess,95 which is designed to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for all matters relating to the employment of people with disability. Although the information it contains is not specifically targeted towards the APS, it contains a wealth of useful information for APS agencies, including information on different types of disability, information about various employer incentive schemes, including the Supported Wage System, and the Workplace Adjustment Tool, a searchable database of modification and adjustment ideas that includes information about suppliers and products in Australia.

2. Consider disability specialist positions

A strategy adopted by some agencies with a better record of employing people with disability is to appoint a disability coordinator and/or case managers to manage the needs of staff with disability. In large agencies a position of this nature can focus on the employment of people with disability and staff returning to work after illness or injury. In smaller agencies the role may need to be combined with other responsibilities. The position can also act as a point of specialist advice and assistance for people who manage employees with disability.

Centrelink employs a National Disability Coordinator who provides consultative advice to managers and employees in relation to the employment of people with disability.

3. Consider centralised funding for adaptive technology

When the cost of reasonable adjustments is funded from the budgets of individual work areas managers can find themselves having to balance the needs of people with disability in their teams against the need to fund other business requirements.

Agencies could consider centralising funds to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace and provide adaptive technology for employees with disability attending learning and development activities.

Agencies are also encouraged to ensure that adaptive technology and other portable reasonable adjustments made for employees with disability are transferable within the agency and, to the greatest extent possible, transferable to other APS agencies.

4. Educate staff about mental health in the workplace

Studies suggest that a significant proportion of adult Australians will experience some type of mental illness every year. However, many managers are unaware of how to identify symptoms of mental illness and how to assist their staff and colleagues who are affected. Managers need to be better informed and equipped to appropriately and effectively manage mental illness, depression and related disorders in the workplace. Experience suggests that early identification and treatment will reduce the negative impacts of mental illness on both the employee and the workplace.

Reducing the stigma of mental illness or depression is also critical because attitudes play a key role in achieving behavioural change and broader acceptance, resulting in higher retention rates of employees with these disorders.

Agencies should consider providing training and awareness programmes for managers and other APS employees on mental illness, depression or related disorders through organisations such as beyondblue and the Mental Health Council of Australia.

A number of APS agencies are already using the beyondblue National Depression in the Workplace Program,96 including Comcare, Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office, The Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Department of Health and Ageing and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and the Mental Health Council of Australia have jointly developed the Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace e-learning course.97 The course, which is available on CD, is adapted from a twelve-hour face-to-face training course. More information on the full course is available from Mental Health First Aid.98

Employee Assistance Programmes and/or expert case managers within an organisation can also contribute to increased awareness and knowledge among managers.

5. Network with other employers

Overseas experience suggests organisations participating in a support network of employers achieve positive outcomes in improving employment opportunities for people with disability. In Australia, APS agencies can access the combined experience of more than 66 Australian organisations through the Australian Employers’ Network on Disability,99 managed by Employers Making a Difference Inc.

Current members of the Australian Employers’ Network on Disability include the Department of Defence, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Department of Health and Ageing, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Australian Taxation Office, the Royal Australian Mint and Questacon.

Using a consistent conceptual framework

MAC objective 7: Consistent conceptual framework for defining disability

What can we do?

1. Adopt the definitions of disability recommended by MAC

Agencies are urged to adopt the definition of disability in Section 4 of the DDA in developing recruitment and retention policies.

However, although the definition in the Disability Discrimination Act is conceptually strong and suitable to guide overall policy and direction, it can be difficult to put into operation in the practical process of data collection. For the purpose of data collection, agencies are urged to follow the MAC recommendation to adopt the definition of disability100 used by the ABS in its 2003 Disability, Ageing and Carers Survey (refer to Appendix B).

2. Ask consistent questions about disability

To ensure consistent APS-wide data collection, and to allow meaningful comparisons of that data across the APS, agencies should collect details of the disability status of their employees, by asking the following two questions:

  1. Question One: ‘Do you have a disability?’ [referring respondents to the ABS definition of disability] Yes / No
  2. Question Two ‘Do you have an ongoing disability that requires a work-related adjustment? Yes/No

Once collected, data can be used at an individual level to consult with employees who have disclosed disability to ensure that any reasonable adjustment needs they may have are met, and that they are aware of the support arrangements available to them.

At a corporate level, data can be used to analyse trends, such as rates of engagement and separation of people with disability, and identify any systemic issues that need to be addressed.

3. Explain why data on disability is collected and how it is used

There are a number of simple things that agencies can do to encourage employees to disclose any disability. Agencies should promulgate clear advice about why personal employment data, including data on disability, is being collected and how it will be used to benefit both the employee and the agency.

Agencies should consider not only asking for this information when the employee is first engaged, but regularly offering employees the opportunity to update their status.

The Australian Public Service Commission complements data collection on commencement with an annual workplace diversity census. This is a straightforward process. An email is sent to all staff reminding them of why the information is requested, providing assurances of confidentiality and asking them to update their information.

Agencies may also wish to consider making use of a web–based system for collecting data developed by the Commission, called Online Employee Provided Information (OEPI). Disability status is one of the variables collected through OEPI. In those agencies that choose to make use of this facility, employees are sent an email inviting them to log on to a secure Commission website using a supplied password, check their current data and, if needed, update or correct the information displayed. Periodically, data is migrated from this website to APSED101 for use in analysis. To ensure that agencies' data is as accurate as possible, the information employees provide through OEPI is also forwarded to agencies so they can update their records.

Endorsement by the agency head of messages to staff about the reasons for supplying data can help to emphasise the importance of its collection, and appropriate guarantees of privacy and confidentiality can help to alleviate any concerns about how the information is used.

Agencies might also consider providing further information, in a targeted way, to employees who have elected not to supply data.

For more information on the above, see the section on ‘Collecting statistical data’ in What questions can I ask someone about their disability? of this kit.

Places to go for information

The following web links will take you to organisations that can supply help, advice or information about people with disability and approaches to supporting them in the workplace.

The list is not comprehensive and, in some cases, some of these agencies are limited to a particular state or area. Many of these sites also contain useful links to related sites, including sites of partner organisations in other states.

If you come across other particularly useful web–based resources, or if one of these links is not working, please let us know by email to abilityatwork [at] apsc.gov.au.

ACE (Association of Competitive Employment)
Arthritis Australia
Assistance Dogs Australia
Association of Consultants in Access, Australia Inc
Australian Association of the Deaf
Australian Cerebral Palsy Association/CP Australia
Australian Employer’s Network on Disability/Employers Making a Difference
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations
Australian Learning Disability Association
Australian Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Association
Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association
Beyondblue: the national depression initiative
Blind Citizens Australia
Brain Foundation
Brain Injury Australia
Cerebral Palsy Foundation (Australia)
CRS Australia
Deafness Forum of Australia
Deaf Society NSW
Disability Works Australia
Epilepsy Action Australia
Health Services Australia
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
Independent Living Centre
Job Access/Department of Employment and Workplace Relations
Job Accommodation Network
Mental Health Council of Australia
Mental Health Foundation
Multiple Sclerosis Society
National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS
National Council on Intellectual Disability
National Ethnic Disability Alliance
Physical Disability Council of Australia
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association
SANE Australia
Standards Australia
Spinal Cord Injuries Australia
Technical Aid for the Disabled
Traumatic Brain Injury Resources Guide
Vision Australia
Women with Disabilities Australia


This toolkit has been put together with help provided from many sources inside and outside the Australian Public Service. Our particular thanks go to those people who served on the project’s reference group and provided comment and insight on the direction of the project and the materials developed by it.

Our thanks also to those organisations that provided assistance with research and the development of the toolkit, often based on their own work.

These organisations include, in alphabetical order:

  • ACE (Association of Competitive Employment)
  • ACT Government Service
  • Australian Employer’s Network on Disability
  • Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
  • Beyondblue: the national depression initiative
  • Centrelink
  • CRS Australia
  • Department of Defence
  • Department of Employment and Workplace Relations
  • Department of Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
  • Disability Works Australia
  • Family Court of Australia
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
  • Job Accommodation Network
  • Mental Health Council of Australia
  • National Council for Intellectual Disability
  • National Science and Technology Centre (Questacon)
  • Public Employment Office of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association
  • Royal Australian Mint
  • SANE Australia
  • Vision Australia

64 http://www.idpwd.com.au/

65 https://jobsearch.gov.au/Login/Login.aspx?WHCode=0&TextOnly=0

66 Documentation of this type is not only more encouraging for people with disability it is more likely to attract applicants generally.

70 http://www.dwa.org.au/about.htm

71 http://www.newcastle.edu.au/service/disability/regional/dlo/index.html

72 http://www.dwa.org.au/about.htm

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

78 http://www.abcb.gov.au/

79 http://www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/buildings/access_to_premises.html#standards

80 http://www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/standards/Access_to_premises/premises_advisory.html

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

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

87 http://www.agimo.gov.au/practice/delivery/checklists/assistive

88 http://www.agimo.gov.au/practice/mws/accessibility

89 http://www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/standards/www_3/www_3.html

90 http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/

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

92 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/ServiceProviders/Employer+incentives/applyingforsws.htm

93 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Advice/JobAccessAdvisers/Contact_a_JobAccess_Adviser.htm

Last reviewed: 
8 June 2018