Over 4 million people, nearly one fifth of the population in Australia, have a disability and the proportion is rising due to an ageing population. Throughout history, societies have ignored, hidden and cursed people with disability. While disabled individuals still struggle to get employed in the Australian workforce, there has been a marked shift in the attitudes of Australian employers in the last few years. Many employers are implementing positive strategies to support a diverse workforce that helps boost growth, innovation, brand awareness and eventually, profitability.
Disability is not a new concept and has existed for as long as humans have existed. People with disabilities have always faced challenges in learning work skills and finding jobs. Despite discrimination, people with disabilities have worked in a wide range of occupations and industries. Let’s take a closer look at the history of disabilities in the workplace.
In 1908, the Australian government introduced the Invalid Pension scheme to make people with disabilities more independent and acknowledge them as recognised members of the society. After the World Wars, the government funded rehabilitation programs for war soldiers with impairments. This was a big step towards disability being better recognised as a condition and strengthened the belief that people with disability have a right to lead a decent life.
1981 was a turning point in the history of disability rights movements in Australia. People with disability united to claim self-determination and self-representation as means to overcome their social oppression. The Disability Services Act 1986 (DSA), Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), and the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) have helped improve the rights of people with disability in the workplace in Australia.
A few facts about disability in the workplace:
- Disability in the workplace is a broad term. In the workplace, disability does not only refer to physical disability, but also intellectual, neurological, psychiatric, sensory, and learning disabilities. The laws are applicable for everyone who may be discriminated against owing to some disability.
- Discrimination is illegal. Disability discrimination refers to anyone getting unfair treatment and/or missing out on job opportunities just because they have a disability. Australian law protects disabled workers from discrimination at all stages of employment – starting from the interview stage to leaving the company.
- Sometimes it can be legal for an employer to refuse a job on the grounds of disability if it makes the candidate unable to perform the ‘inherent requirements’ of a specific job. However, they cannot turn you down if your disability won’t affect your performance.
- Employers need to adjust workplaces, so they are accessible and safe for workers with disability.
- Employers are required to keep their staff’s disability details confidential unless given consent by the staff in question.
As a nation, we still have a long way to go to improve the labour landscape for disabled workers. But the hope for a better tomorrow burns brighter than ever. Especially so because of organisations like atwork Australia that are working towards providing employment opportunities in safe, inclusive, and diverse workplaces to people with disabilities in Australia.