Everyone has different levels of contact with people with disability. If you have any concerns or questions about working with a person with disability or would like some tips on things to consider, this guide is for you.
If you are working with a person with mental illness, then you may also be interested in:
Put the person first
The greatest barrier that people with disability experience in relation to employment is community stigma and stereotypes.
When working with a co-worker with disability, it is important to consider their goals, strengths, skills and resources rather than their disability.
When communicating with a person with disability, treat the person with the same respect you would other people. The focus should be on interacting with the person and not their disability. People with disability are usually experts in their own needs, so if you have any questions about what will make them most comfortable, ask them first.
Most importantly relax. A sincere commitment to including people with disability will compensate for most mistakes—a sense of humour should cover the rest!
Disclosure of disability
Disclosure is a choice a person makes about whether to tell another person or organisation information about their disability. There is no legal obligation for a co-worker to disclose information about their disability to you or your employer, unless it is likely to affect their performance or ability to meet the inherent requirements of the job, including their ability to work safely and ensure the safety of others.
If a co-worker has disclosed information about a disability to you or has made a choice to disclose a disability to your employer, it is important that any information about their disability is treated appropriately as it may involve sensitive personal information. For example, you should not discuss the disability related information with other co-workers unless you have been given permission to do so.
For more information on your rights and responsibilities regarding disclosure and privacy:
Starting a job
Starting a job can be an anxious experience for any new employee. For a new co-worker with disability, concerns about acceptance by co-workers can make the start of a job an especially stressful time. When a new co-worker with disability starts a new job in your workplace, ensure that you have a relaxed manner and work environment to assist the new person settle in.
As with other co-workers, providing regular and ongoing feedback on work performance or other work related behaviour will provide direction and increased confidence, and make the settling in period more successful. Providing feedback is also an effective technique to minimise stress at work as stress may affect the person's ability to function.
Disability awareness training
If a co-worker with disability is commencing a new job in your workplace, you may want to attend some disability awareness training. Disability awareness training can help you feel at ease when communicating and working with a new co-worker with disability. It can also help a new co-worker with disability feel supported by you when they commence the new job.
If disability awareness training is not available in your workplace, talk to your employer about organising disability awareness training if appropriate. If this is not possible or practical, JobAccess can help link you to providers in your area:
Auslan is Australian Sign Language. If you work with someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing and communicates using Auslan, you may wish to do some training to help you communicate at work. Your employer may also be eligible for help with Auslan training.
Work-related social events are an important part of developing a healthy work environment. Social events do not just refer to the annual Christmas party or the family picnic day, but include things like Friday night drinks and sporting groups.
Just like any other employee, co-workers with disability should be included in these events, with considerations made to ensure that the event facilities are fully accessible to people with disability. For example, parking is available for a co-worker in a wheelchair, ramps or lifts are available rather than stairs only and noise levels are not too high for a co-worker who has difficulty hearing.
Don’t assume that a person cannot or does not want to be involved simply because they have a disability—adjustments can almost always be made so that everyone can be included.