Disability mythbusting

Background

Disability can be visible or invisible; permanent, episodic or temporary; and can have significant through to very minimal impact on a person’s day-to-day tasks. No two people will experience a disability in the same way.

A person living with a disability may require some form of adjustment to assist with the barriers that impact their work - a small adjustment can make a big difference in allowing someone to demonstrate their unique set of skills. It is also evidenced 1 that a person living with a disability tends to:

  • take less sick leave and stay in jobs for longer than other workers
  • have fewer compensation incidents and accidents at work compared to other workers
  • build strong relationships with customers
  • boost workplace morale and enhance teamwork.

Myth 1: people with disability can only do unskilled work

A common assumption is that people living with disability can only do basic unskilled jobs. The opposite is the case—people with disability bring a range of skills, talents and abilities to the workplace, working in all sorts of jobs and often holding a range of tertiary and trade qualifications.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2 reported that in 2012:

  • 19.9% of working-age people with disability who were employed, worked as professionals
  • 14.1% of working-age people with disability who were employed, were clerical and administrative workers
  • 15.2% of working-age people with disability who were employed, were technicians and trade workers
  • 11.6% of people with disability who work, run their own business
  • 33.7% work from home.

Myth 2: people with disability are more likely to have workplace incidents

There is no proof that employees with disability are more susceptible to workplace injury than others. In fact, research suggests that people with disability can have fewer accidents at work.

Myth 3: people with disability will not fit in to our team

People with disability make up approximately 20 per cent of the Queensland population and the likelihood of clients and co-workers having a relative or friend or co-worker living with disability is high. Employer initiatives in hiring people with disability can have positive bottom line results; increased staff morale and community recognition as good corporate citizens.

Myth 4: all disability can be approached the same

No one person is the same so why should disability be?

Just as no one disability is the same, every person living with disability will have their own individual experiences. Therefore, you can never make assumptions about a person’s disability and what they can or cannot do on the basis of the type of disability.

Myth 5: it’s not hard to work out what someone can and can’t do because you can see what their disability is and what is required

What the table below clearly shows is that the disabilities with the highest representation within the Australian community are quite often invisible. For many disabilities, it is impossible to determine a person’s needs without first asking them.

The following table 3 highlights the prevalence of mental health conditions in our community.

Condition Australian representation (approximate)
Anxiety 1 in 4
Post-traumatic stress disorder 1 in 4
Hearing Loss 1 in 6
Depression 1 in 17
Eating disorder 1 in 20
Sensory processing disorder 1 in 20 (children)
Psychosocial disability 1 in 23
Epilepsy 1 in 26
(Acquired) brain injury 1 in 34
Intellectual disabilities 1 in 34
Bipolar disorder 1 in 50
Obsessive compulsive disorder 1 in 50
Blindness and low vision 1 in 62
Borderline personality disorder 1 in 70
Schizophrenia 1 in 100
Autism spectrum disorder 1 in 145
Tourette syndrome 1 in 200
Psychosis 1 in 200
Cerebral Palsy 1 in 700
Deaf Auslan users 1 in 793
Multiple sclerosis 1 in 1,035
Spinal cord injury 1 in 1,190
Muscular dystrophy / neuromuscular disease 1 in 1,190
Down syndrome 1 in 1,700
Spina bifida 1 in 4,760
Cystic fibrosis 1 in 7,225

1 https://www.jobaccess.gov.au/employers/benefits-employing-people-with-disability

2 4433.0.55.006 - Disability and Labour Force Participation, 2012

3 Working differently: Empowering disability confidence February 2018