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Adjustments for Disability in the Workplace

Making some adjustments for disability in your workplace can ensure an inclusive space for all employees and help make their daily work life easier.

Every person in Australia has the right to work (regardless whether they have a disability or not). There are many different roles that suit those with a disability. The employer just needs to recognise what adjustments are needed to accommodate disabilities in their organisation. When planning team building or social activities, they should be inclusive to ensure all employees can participate.

Workplace Adjustments for Disability

A workplace adjustment involves changing workplace procedures, environment, or processes to allow an employee with a disability to do their job effectively. Examples of workplace adjustments may be physical changes to the premises, aids at a workstation, adjustments to a work schedule or training. The type of adjustment required can vary depending on the disability and the individual's own preferences.

Every person is different in terms of the aids they prefer to use to assist with their disability. Before purchasing aids, it’s important to speak to the employee to find out what aids they prefer to use, and how the organisation and their colleagues can help.

Mobility Impairments

Before interviewing a person with a disability, make sure they can enter the premises easily. Inform them of where the ramps are, check the widths of doors and corridors to ensure a wheelchair can fit. If an employee has a short-term mobility impairment, the organisation should do what it can to make sure the employee can easily and safely access the areas of the building.

Deafness and Hearing Loss

Hearing impaired people may use a variety of personal aids to improve the sounds they can hear, while deaf people may have no sounds at all. A deaf or hearing impaired person may have full speech, limited or no speech, so an organisation may need to consider how employees will communicate on both a sound and speech level. Some hearing impaired and deaf people may communicate through lip reading while others use Auslan sign language.

Finding out how a worker likes to communicate is important for educating their colleagues. If lip reading is used, colleagues should be advised to stand in front of their colleague without their face obscured. They might like to do all communications in writing. If the organisation has internal meetings, they can use a Powerpoint presentation or include handout notes. Training sessions could be converted to eLearning modules rather than a presenter.

The work environment should also be considered. The lighting around the workstation may need to be improved so faces are clearly visible for lip reading purposes. A worker with hearing loss may prefer to work in a quiet part of the building where there is less background noise to detract from communicating with a colleague.

If telephone calls or meetings are needed, the National Relay Service has relay officers who help with telephone and video communications between hearing and hearing impaired people.

Blindness & Low Vision

Workers who have low vision or blindness can be assisted in the workplace with multiple aids. One of the most important steps is to make the workplace safe by removing hazards. A visually impaired worker is at greater risk of slips and falls than a seeing employee. For example: All staff should be made aware that deliveries and stock can’t be left on the floor in areas that could be hazardous. Colleagues should be conscious of picking up anything on the ground and cleaning up any spills that can make a surface slippery.

To assist a visually impaired employee, the organisation may need to upgrade the lighting around their workstation, purchase a magnification aid or screen reading software for the monitor. Communications may need to be produced in alternative formats such as accessible Word documents, Braille, or audio, whatever their preferred format is. A large button phone and text to speech mobile may also be needed.

Mental Health

With three million Australians living with depression or anxiety, it’s likely most organisations will have more than one employee with a mental health concern. So it’s important employers recognise the growing problem and assist staff. Some employees choose not to disclose their mental illness, while others are open with their employer.

Organisations can help by promoting their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to ensure all staff know the confidential service is available should any staff member ever need it. HR and/or managers who support colleagues with mental health concerns could undertake some training to better understand depression and anxiety and how it impacts a person’s life. If they better understand the condition, they may be able to recognise when an employee is struggling with a panic attack or depression and ask if they want to leave the office for a walk, to get a coffee or work from home.

A manager may need to modify their management style when dealing with colleagues who have a mental illness. They may respond better when they aren’t being micromanaged or require more flexible work options. An organisation may offer an employee the opportunity to work in a role that has less stress or fewer incidents that they find stressful such as interacting with customers or colleagues.

Chronic Health Conditions

Adults suffer from a wide range of chronic health conditions that have an impact on their daily life, including work. If an employer can provide the right support, the employee is more likely to feel valued and stay longer. Support can be reassuring a staff member that they can attend medical appointments during work time and offering flexible work arrangements, if possible. An organisation can support an employee by asking if they need any special equipment or aids to help reduce pain or make their workday a little easier. A manager may also be given authority to reduce the work-load or hours for an employee struggling with a health condition.

Everyone wants to feel valued at work. Whether you have a disability or not, it’s important to have your needs and contributions recognised by your employer. Building a supportive culture within an organisation can provide peace of mind to all workers. As an employee, you might need a caring employer next week or in the future if you or a close family member suffers a life-altering injury or illness.

Free Workplace Assessments

Altius Group offers a Work Assist Program to help employees to maintain their employment while managing an injury, disability or health condition. This program is free to eligible businesses, and includes services such as workplace modifications, counselling and assessments. To find out if your organisation is eligible for the Work Assist Program contact us online.

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