Preparing Your Workplace To Welcome People With Disabilities | Leap in!
01 Nov

Preparing your workplace to welcome people with disabilities.

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This story is part of the Inclusive employment series. 

Inclusive workplaces have been described in the Getting to equal report as the “next frontier of corporate social responsibility”. But how do you prepare for welcoming more diverse employees into your workforce and workplace?

In this section, we consider a whole of business approach, the importance of internal engagement and the role of assistive technology. We also explore some of the funding and grant options that can support you as an employer.

As you work through the information in this section, consider how you can create a safe, accessible and dignified experience for all employees, beyond simply meeting your legal Occupational Health & Safety obligations.

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Personalisation of supports.

It is important to remember that people with a disability are not an homogeneous group so there is no one size fits all approach. For each disability type, there is a range of associated, specific requirements that might need to be met to maximise the productivity of each individual (1).

For example:

  • People with mobility impairments may need additional attention to accessibility and the physical layout of the workplace
  • People with intellectual disabilities might need individual job tasks to be broken down into clear steps
  • People who are deaf may require coworkers to use alternative communication methods.
  • People with psychosocial disabilities may require more frequent breaks (2).

Consult with the employee to find out what workplace customisation, adjustments or supports they need. If Disability Employment Services (DES) has been involved in the hire process, the DES representative can advocate on behalf of the person and discuss any workplace needs during the recruitment phase. Funding is also available for additional training and workplace modifications (see Funding and grant options).

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports that “most (88% or 684,000) employed working-age people with disability do not require specific arrangements from their employer to work. Of those who do:

  • 50% (or 47,700) need special equipment or modified buildings/fittings, or to be provided special/free transport or parking
  • 25% (or 23,700) need a special support person to assist or train them on the job (applies to salary or wage earners only) or to be provided help from someone at work, or to be provided training/retraining
  • 26% (or 25,000) need to be allocated different duties.”

Considerations may include:

  • How to create a safe environment such as the installation of lighting, signage, rails or non-slip mats
  • Any access requirements – to the workplace, building, floor and individual work location or station
  • Parking requirements
  • Accessibility in common areas, kitchens, boardrooms etc.
  • Bathroom requirements including accessible toilets
  • Additional space for storage of personal items
  • Any accommodations for a support worker to attend with the employee
  • Additional or custom onboarding and training requirements.

Some things can be done immediately and at little or no cost such as rearranging furniture to accommodate a wheelchair or placing non-slip mats in common areas, while others may take more time.

Health and safety in the workplace.

Under Australian law, businesses must ensure the health and safety of employees and not put the safety of other people at risk by providing a safe work environment, safe ways of working and providing and maintaining adequate facilities. And all employees have a responsibility to play an active role in workplace safety.

Access and signage considerations:

  • Recent changes to the National Construction Code cover the minimum necessary requirements for safety and health, amenity and accessibility that new Australian buildings must meet. These include provisions for accessible adult change facilities and requirements around access to approach a building, walking surfaces, doors, stairways and ramps.
  • Some adjustments may be required such as:
    • Clear markings on steps or pathways
    • Better lighting
    • Ramp access
    • Providing a close car parking space
    • Braille and tactile signage.
  • Access to safety information may need to be supplied in various different formats such as video, large fonts, audio or Braille.31

Evacuation considerations:

  • Ensure your evacuation procedure is inclusive of people with a disability
  • Develop a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) for each person with a disability
  • Consider a “buddy” system for any employees with disability that may need support to evacuate
  • Ensure fire wardens know who requires additional assistance and understand the PEEP for each person
  • Refer to the Australian Network on Disability guidelines for more information.

Safe Work Australia is the Australian government organisation responsible for national policy related to Workplace Health and Safety and workers’ compensation. For more details on your obligations, visit the Safe Work Australia website.

Mental health.

Around 45% of Australians will experience some sort of mental illness in their life so it makes good business sense to support the mental wellbeing of all staff.

Mental illness is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act so it is unlawful to discriminate against another person on the grounds of mental illness, mental health issues or psychosocial disability when it comes to employment.

Many people with mental illness are aware of their triggers and have strategies for managing symptoms. Some people with psychosocial disability will be receiving supports under the National Disability Employment Service (NDIS). Other mainstream programs are also available to help employees to manage psychosocial disabilities or mental health issues including Mental Health Care Plans.

Many organisations have a dedicated Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), an independent work-based program designed to enhance the emotional, mental and psychological wellbeing of employees. They provide free confidential and professional psychology and counselling services, usually up to a certain number of consultations per year. Funding for mental health awareness training may be available through the JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund.

It is also worth investing in training for staff members in Mental Health First Aid, to teach them skills to help co-workers, family members or friends experiencing a mental health crisis.

Internal champions.

Consider how your organisational structure can support diversity and inclusion. Having a dedicated internal resource with the responsibility of breaking down barriers is critical to the implementation of any Accessibility Action Plan. Accountability and responsibility should start at the top, with a manager or senior leader, supported by employees across the business.

Inclusion champions can take many forms and ideally everyone in the organisation should be an inclusion champion. However, it is helpful to have passionate and committed people throughout the organisation to highlight and help break down barriers as well as support people who may be feeling excluded.

An inclusion champion is someone who helps to create a sense of belonging for everyone in the workplace in a day-to-day context.

Assistive technology.

Assistive technology is a device, system or design that allows an individual to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increases the ease of which a task can be performed.

People with diverse abilities may access a wide range of assistive technology spanning everything from simple, low cost aids like non-slip mats or walking sticks, to more complex items such as laptops, screen readers and custom wheelchairs.

The Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) can cover the cost of some work-related assistive technology such as buying equipment, modifications and communications technology. For more information, visit Funding for changes to the workplace.

Working with support workers.

Support workers are vital carers for some people with a disability who may provide support with key functions of the person’s role and/or personal care while they are at work.

A new type of funding was recently made available through the National Disability Employment Service (NDIS) called Supports in Employment – Specialised supported employment. This funding may be made available to NDIS participants who are less independent in performing their work tasks.

They may need additional coaching to be able to operate in the workplace such as help to stay focused, assistance with communication or support with managing behaviour. Supports may be provided individually or in groups and include:

  • On the job assessments related to the impact of their disability on their ability to work
  • Job customisation
  • On the job training
  • Support with work tasks
  • Physical assistance and personal care at work
  • Supports to manage disability related behaviour or complex needs.

Depending on how the participant’s NDIS Plan is managed, they may be able to use a support worker of their choice to assist with these tasks which may include someone within the organisation.

Support workers are there to help the employee be more effective so it is in your best interests to work with them and genuinely consider any suggestions they have to improve accessibility and inclusion.

Funding and grant options to assist you as an employer.

There are a range of government and non-government supports that can assist employers to create more inclusive workplaces including financial assistance with workplace modifications and training.

For example, if a modification is required to help ensure an employee with a disability can do their job, the cost may be covered by the federal Employment Assistance Fund.

Participants in the NDIS may also be receiving reasonable and necessary personal supports and services as part of their NDIS funding package. However, the NDIS will not generally fund supports and services that are covered by other mainstream providers.

What the NDIS can cover:

  • Personal assistive technology such as mobility aids
  • Support workers to assist with personal care
  • Other items included under ‘Working with support workers’ above.

What the NDIS won’t cover:

  • Workplace modifications such as handrails, signage, ramp installation and non-slip surfaces
  • Assistive technology in the workplace such as modified computers
  • Vocational courses.

 

For more information about inclusive employment, check out our Inclusive employment page or download the full version of the free Leap in! ebook, Inclusive employment: A comprehensive guide for creating a culture of inclusion for disabled people in your organisation.

The information provided here is general in nature only and does not constitute business financial or legal advice. The information has been prepared without taking into account your business objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any of this information, you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your business objectives, financial/legal situation and needs.

 

References

  1. Powers, Tony: Recognising ability: The skills and productivity of persons with disabilities, International Labour Office, 2008.
  2. Powers, Tony: Recognising ability: The skills and productivity of persons with disabilities, International Labour Office, 2008.

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