Dismantling the narrow view of disability

Friday, 21 May 2021

When we hear the word disability, most people think of someone in a wheelchair.

In Australia, there are over 4.4 million people that have some form of disability. Only 4.4% of people with disability use a wheelchair.

This limited view of disability can affect how we establish accessibility, inclusion, and diversity in our workplaces.

There are many different types of disabilities that can affect a person’s mental, sensory, or mobility functions. Some people are born with a disability whilst others may acquire the disability as they age or through an accident.

The biggest barrier that people with disability face is the way our society disables them. Stereotyping, stigma, and discrimination are all enduring challenges for people with disability that have resulted in unemployment, inadequate job quality, and underemployment.

The social model of disability sees ‘disability’ as the physical, attitudinal, communication, and social barriers created by society rather than an individual’s impairment.

It does not deny the impact the impairment has on the individual, but it does seek to put the responsibility on society to accommodate for people living with disability, rather than expecting the individual to accommodate for society.

For example, if someone who is hard of hearing goes to the cinema to see a movie, but the cinema does not provide closed captions, it is the cinema’s inability to provide captions that is disabling the patron from watching the movie, not their condition.

Ignorance or lack of knowledge is not a suitable excuse for excluding the disability community. Educating ourselves about different types of disabilities, injuries, and mental health conditions is the first step to dismantling damaging stereotypes and breaking down barriers.

Below is a brief description of different disability groups that are most prevalent in Australia. It is important to note that this is not a definitive list of all disabilities or experiences of people with disability. No two people with disability will experience their disability the same way. Everyone is an individual and will have their own specific experiences and needs.

Disability groups

Physical disability

A physical disability is a condition that affects someone’s mobility, dexterity, or stamina. Some people with physical disabilities may use mobility aids as extra support. Examples of physical disabilities include cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, amputation, and multiple sclerosis.

Intellectual disability

An intellectual disability is a life-long condition that is usually identified in childhood. People with an intellectual disability may have difficulty with communication, daily self-care, safety, social functioning, and information processing. Examples of intellectual disabilities include down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome.

Mental illness

Mental health conditions are a group of illnesses that affect the mind. They can affect how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. Examples of mental health conditions include depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia.

Sensory disability

Sensory impairments affect a person’s senses (touch, hearing, sight, taste, and smell). The most common sensory disabilities are blindness or low vision and Deafness or hearing loss.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

People on the spectrum have difficulty with social interaction and communication and may have fixated interests or repetitive behaviours. People on the spectrum often demonstrate great attention to detail, a high work standard, and a strong work ethic.

Acquired brain injury (ABI)

ABI is any type of brain damage that occurs after birth. Long-term effects are very different for each person and can range from mild to profound. People with an ABI may experience changes in behaviour, personality, and physical or sensory abilities.

Learning disability

A learning disability is a varied group of conditions that affect the development and use of fine motor skills, listening, reading, writing, or mathematical skills. Learning disabilities include dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dysgraphia.

Chronic health conditions

Chronic health conditions require ongoing medical attention and may limit daily living. Common conditions include cancer, heart disease, epilepsy, and diabetes.

What kind of jobs can someone with a disability do?

Disability does not define what work a person can or cannot do. People with disability should not be pigeonholed or restricted to certain roles because of their condition. Like anyone, people with disability have a set of individual interests, skills, and goals which suit particular roles or industries. People with disability can be doctors, paramedics, chefs, lawyers, carers, tradespeople, artists, and teachers.

Most of the barriers that people with disability face in the workplace can be easily broken down by simple adjustments or modifications. Everyone has the right to meaningful employment. No one’s disability, injury, health condition, or mental health condition should stand in the way of achieving their goals.

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments or workplace modifications are changes to a workplace to remove barriers that prevent people with disability from succeeding at work. The adjustments are designed to optimise processes, procedures, or environments.

Adjustments might include standing desks, voice recognition software, noise-cancelling headphones, communication devices, and everything in between. These are small changes that have a big impact on helping people with disability reach their best at work.

If you are an employer and you are looking at making diversity and inclusion a priority, contact EPIC today. Our Employment Advisors can introduce you to quality candidates who will bring valuable new perspectives and a competitive advantage to your business.

Related articles