Returning to work

Katrina Doolen
The Federal Government can provide assistance to employers if changes need to be made for a worker with a disability. But many people feel they have to change their job or career when they acquire a disability. It is important that people get the support they need when making a change. Chris struggled to change jobs when he could no longer do physical work. It took Lauren four years to discover disability advocacy after she lost her sight. Janice changed jobs because her workmates treated her badly. I think employers need to view employees with a disability more positively.
Posted by: 
Katrina Doolen on 07/11/2011
Stuart Minotti smiling as he works with a colleague at the ANZ bank
Stuart Minotti from ANZ

Research shows people with a disability make excellent employees

At some stage in their lives most people change jobs or careers. Many people feel they have to change their job or career when they acquire a disability. It is against the law to discriminate against people with a disability. But it can be a challenge for people to find a new job that suits. Unfortunately, many people with a disability still suffer discrimination.

Research has consistently found that people with a disability make excellent employees. They have higher attendance rates than their colleagues. People with a disability also have lower turnover. They also have better than average performance and safety records. The Federal Government can provide assistance for employers if any workplace modifications are needed. Details about the Employment Assistance Fund and workplace assessment can be found at the JobAccess website (opens new window).

From orchards to audits

Chris worked as a stonemason, labourer and ran an organic orchard in the 1980s. When he was 35, a severe brain haemorrhage paralysed his left side. Chris returned home after surgery and four months in rehabilitation learning to walk again. The rehabilitation social worker put Chris in contact with a very supportive Reiki group. Chris also got into computers during his rehabilitation because he saw their future importance.

Early in my recovery when my brain was still addled I had an assessment, says Chris. I was politely told that I was too brain damaged to be useful to anyone. So I got angry and went out and got a job.

Chris' first job was editing and proof-reading a community development journal. Chris also went to the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service for help to restart his orchard. They tried to help Chris but had limited funds available. When the money ran out they could not offer any more assistance.

Chris went on to work voluntarily for disability services and on management committees. He now audits disability services that are funded by the Victorian Department of Human Services.

Disability advocacy

Lauren landed her dream job five years ago. She was 20 years old and got a horticulture apprenticeship. But then she lost her sight and received other injuries in a car accident. Lauren spent many weeks in hospital and had to learn to walk again. Six months later she started learning keyboard skills and Braille. Lauren had support from family, friends, and the local branch of Blind Citizens Australia.

Lauren also studied business administration at TAFE. Lauren had noticed a lot of medical receptionist jobs advertised. Her business teachers assisted her to decide what work she wanted to do. Four years later Lauren has now found a job she is really passionate about. She is working in disability advocacy. Lauren's new career is interesting and lets her develop her writing skills.

Career change

Janice uses a wheelchair following an accident. She can still use her upper body. Janice returned to work as a librarian. The library had good physical access. But some of Janice's workmates treated her badly. She moved to another library but still felt discriminated against.

Janice decided to have a career change. She now works in the disability sector and feels more supported.

Making returning to work easier

I think career guidance for people who have recently acquired a disability is important. An expert can help assess skills, abilities, workplace adjustments and aspirations. It is also useful to have an advocate or be taught how to advocate for yourself.

Most importantly, I believe employers need to realise employees with a disability are an asset, not a liability. Many employees with disability offer flexibility, adaptability and are good with managing change.



The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission website (opens new window) has information on equal employment policies.

JobAccess is an information and advice service. It offers help and workplace solutions for people with a disability and their employers. More information can be found on the JobAccess website (opens new window).

Disability Employment Australia is the peak organisation that represents specialists who help find employment for people with a disability. More information can be found on the Disability Employment Australia website (opens new window).

Comment on this article