Workers with a disability

How to create accessible and safe workplaces for workers of all abilities



How this helps your business

Accessibility is more than being aware of how the physical environment can act as a barrier to people with disability, it's also knowing how different tools, processes and supports can help employees with disability to work to their full potential and engage in meaningful work.

Every person who lives with disability experiences it differently. Some people may have lived with disability their whole life while others may develop a disability later in life. Some people may live with multiple disabilities, and others may be living with a disability that is not visible.

By building your knowledge about disability and accessibility, you can make small changes to your workplace that can make a big difference.

Key stats and facts

Step 1: Learn more on this topic


Disability is an umbrella term used to describe a limitation, restriction or impairment which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts a person’s everyday activities.

Disability can result from genetic disorders, accidents or illness and can happen to anyone at any stage in life. The Australian Network on Disability provides a definition of disability based on the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), which describes the types of impairments and medical conditions. These include:

  • physical - affects a person's mobility or dexterity
  • intellectual - affects a person's ability to learn
  • mental illness - affects a person's thinking processes
  • sensory - affects a person's ability to hear or see
  • neurological – affects a person’s brain and central nervous system
  • learning disability – affects the way a person learns
  • physical disfigurement
  • immunological - the presence of organisms causing disease in the body


Accessibility refers to removing barriers in systems and environments for people with disability, allowing for equal access and equitable opportunities. Accessibility benefits everyone as it removes barriers that can be physical or psychological, allowing all employees – with or without a disability - to work to the best of their ability.

Watch the video from Australian Network on Disability (AND) below to learn more about accessibility, disability and why it is good for business.

Inclusive environments for employees and customers with a disability will help create opportunities for equal participation in the workplace. Here are some examples of accessibility:

  • Having key policies or documents available in plain English.
  • Ensuring information shared is available in a format that is accessible for people with visual impairments (i.e. compatible with a screen reader).
  • When running a meeting, ask attendees if they have any accessibility requirements – some attendees may require a hearing loop or need to access to an interpreter.
  • Complying with WCAG 2.1 accessibility requirements on your website.

Becoming confident to support your employees with disability may seem challenging in some workplaces, particularly where disability is not regularly talked about or understood. Unconscious bias may also come into play, which means that sometimes myths and stereotypes about employing people with a disability can affect who you recruit and how you recruit.

When designing work for employees with disability, it is best practice to consider the concept of universal design. Universal design considers the ways that the systems or design of an environment may act as a barrier to accessibility. A universal design approach benefits all people of all abilities. Read more about the seven principles of universal design at the end of this step.

Living with a disability may affect a person’s overall health and wellbeing, including a person's mental health. A workplace that is accessible, inclusive, and mentally healthy will help reduce work-related stress factors.

Beyond Blue has a helpful article that explains how living with a disability can affect mental health. It is important to understand this so employees in your workplace feel safe and supported to ask for help if they need to.

Access and Inclusion is Good for Business - Australian Network on Disability

Step 2: Recruit and induct new employees

In Australia, 4.4 million people live with a disability, meaning it is very likely that there are people with disabilities already in your workplace – they may just not feel comfortable sharing this information or they may not need to as they don't require any adjustments to perform the essential requirements of their role.

Employing people who have disability will not only increase the talent and skills of your workforce, it will also bring a variety of perspectives and knowledge to your organisation. Workplaces that employ people with disability have an opportunity to create products, programs and services that will be more reflective of the diversity of the community they serve.

Research shows that meaningful employment contributes to a person’s overall health and wellbeing. People with disability are sometimes given tasks that are "easy" or that "anyone can do."

This is a psychological hazard, where the risk of mental injury is increased because an employee has too little to do or tasks that require low level of thought processing and little variety.

Distributing work this way is a form of discrimination, and is illegal under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010, the Victorian Disability Act 2006, and the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Discrimination can also occur unintentionally through your working environment or recruitment processes.

Job Access is the national hub for workplace and employment information about disability, employers, and service providers. They have a wide range of resources including videos, factsheets, and information about employing people with disability. The Job Access Employer Toolkit is particularly useful and comprehensive.

Watch some of the video case studies called 'Employ their ability' which show the positive contribution that people with disability make to the workforce.

Step 3: Support your leaders

Now that you have a better understanding of accessibility and disability, you can work towards creating a respectful and safe workplace culture. Senior leaders have a powerful influence when they communicate their commitment to an inclusive workplace culture. Leadership needs to be active in learning about the current level of accessibility and functionality of the workplace, so they can make improvements.

There are several ways leaders and managers can show their commitment to an accessible workplace. See the list below from the Western Australian government for some ideas on how you can create an inclusive workplace:

  • invite an executive to become an accessibility and inclusion 'champion' to promote inclusion
  • review recruitment practices to ensure they are welcoming and barrier free
  • encourage all managers and supervisors to model appropriate behaviour
  • conduct an accessibility audit
  • promote awareness raising, discussion and dissemination of policies about inclusive work practices
  • provide information and training for all levels of managers, supervisors and staff about developing an inclusive workplace where individual difference is welcomed and celebrated

If there is a need to discuss an employee's disability status, there are ways to talk to the employee that is nondiscriminatory and respectful. For example, when it comes to understanding if a person with a disability needs adjustments, it is best practice to ask what the organisation can do to support the person to do their job, rather than asking them about their disability specifically.

To understand where you are on your journey to become a disability confident employer, you can undertake an Accessibility Audit using a benchmarking tool like Australian Network on Disability's Access and Inclusion Index. The Index will give you a comprehensive snapshot of where you can make changes and drive access and inclusion outcomes across your whole organisation.

If you don't have the resources to do a comprehensive audit, you can access free online tools like the Access and Inclusion Index Quick 10 and self-assessment tool.

Step 4: Update your resources and processes

Now that you have a better understanding of disability and accessibility there are different things that you and the leaders in your organisation can do to make your workplace more accessible:

  • Use the Victorian Public Sector Commission Disability Employment toolkit – created in 2018, the toolkit has several resources for everyone: Public Sector Leaders, Human Resources, managers, employees with disability and jobseekers with disability.
  • Build staff capability through training – a great way to learn more about disability is engaging training organisations that are disability led. There are also free online options for disability awareness training.
  • Develop an Accessibility Action Plan - This will show your organisation's commitment to inclusion for people with a disability and will outline how you will make your workplace, products and services more accessible.

If you decide to develop an Accessibility Action Plan, you can lodge it with the Australian Human Rights Commission. This will ensure that your Plan complies with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, along with other criteria to support accessibility. For more information about this, visit the Australian Human Rights Commission webpage Disability Discrimination Act Action Plans: A Guide for Business. You can access this by clicking the link at the end of this step.

Depending on your business size, you may not have the resources to undertake a large-scale Action Plan, but you can implement some changes to the way you work. Use the 'Disability employment – 10 things employers can do now' list to get some ideas on where to start making changes. If you have a Diversity and Inclusion Plan, you could also include some activities or strategies in this. Use the generic policy template to create a plan that can work for you.

Step 5: Create an accessible workplace

If an employee has shared with you that they have disability, you have a legal responsibility to provide workplace (reasonable) adjustments, if necessary. Workplace adjustments support employees with disability to complete the essential requirements of their job effectively and safely.

Workplace (reasonable) adjustments are changes to the work environment or conditions that allow people with disability to work safely and productively. Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for a person with disability, which includes:

  • physical, psychological or neurological disease or disorder
  • illness, whether temporary or permanent
  • injury, including work-related injuries

Adjustments can vary from small changes to work hours or requirements of the job, or bigger changes that need specific equipment or structural change to the work environment. Watch the short video at the end of this step to learn more about workplace adjustments.

Employers of people with disability may be eligible for free workplace assessments and modifications through the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF). The EAF provides financial help to people with disability to purchase a range of work-related modifications and services. Assistance is available for people who are about to start a job or who are currently working, as well as those who require assistance to find and prepare for work.

Making reasonable adjustments to the workplace is important and can help to eliminate physical or psychological risks at work.

It is also your responsibility as an employer to ensure all of your employees are aware of evacuation procedures. Some employees may have specific needs during evacuation, ensure these needs are known and understood by the employee’s manager, the Health and Safety Representative, relevant team members and/or the Fire Warden for a safe evacuation.

Personal Employee Evacuation Plans or 'PEEPs' are individual plans to ensure the safety of staff who may need different types of support in the event of an emergency. It may also help you to understand how different parts of the working environment (for example, noisy offices, bright lighting) may cause distress for staff.

The Australian Public Service Commission has developed guidelines on Inclusive Workplace Emergency Practices. The guidelines describe how to make workplaces more inclusive, including guidance on how to make your own PEEP.

Step 6: Review and keep improving

To allow for continuous improvement in the workplace, changes must be monitored, reviewed, and evaluated. Reviewing your changes regularly will help you understand what is working well and what could be improved.

Here are some tips for reviewing:

  • Make a specific person, role or working group in your organisation responsible for monitoring and evaluating changes - they can keep track of how things are changing over time.
  • Create timelines to make improvements.
  • Make time each year to assess progress - this could be quarterly, every 6 months or annually - set a date and stick to it.
  • Add reviews to your preferred notification system such as your calendar or web-based applications.
  • Have regular conversations with all employees and keep them engaged. If something didn't work, ask employees to tell you and get them involved in ways to improve things.
  • Look to see if Action Plan goals have been achieved - if not, why? Was it a lack of understanding?
  • Look at your broader policy commitments and assess progress - what achievements can you celebrate?

Specify a date that you will review your organisation's requirements and put it in your calendar or other notification system. For efficiency, look at reviewing this policy when you are reviewing your other workplace health, safety and wellbeing policies.

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