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Impairment mythbusting


Impairment 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 an impairment in the same way.

A person with an impairment 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 with an impairment 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 with impairment can only do basic unskilled jobs. The opposite is the case—people with impairment 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 impairment 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 with impairment 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 impairments can be approached the same

No one person is the same so why should an impairment be?

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

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

What the table below clearly shows is that the impairments 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 impairment in our community.

Impairment identity 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