Disability & Employment: Disability In The Workplace

Disability is any physical or mental condition, which leads to the limitation of person’s movements, senses, cognitive abilities, and activities or a combination of these. It is not just a health problem, it is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the physical or mental attributes, which need to be fixed. The disability might range from a simple muscular sprain or an accident to a chronic debilitating disability in which the person can find himself using a wheelchair or a walker. The disability might be in the form of visual, hearing, or speech impairment.

If you have a disability and there are problems in the workplace then you have certain rights and support is available for you. Many countries have in place agreements within the workplace for finding solutions to problems in the workplace that can occur and many will work alongside both you and your employer to help resolve these issues.

Disability Conditions

Disability includes:

  • Total or partial loss of the employee’s body function or a body part, due to accident, trauma or other health condition.
  • The presence of organisms (such as HIV or Hepatitis C), which might cause disease or disability to the body.
  • Mental or psychological diseases or disorders.
  • Conditions or disorders that may result in a person learning more slowly as compared to others.
  • Visually impaired.
  • Hearing impaired

Training for Disabled Employees

All disabled people by law have the same access rights to a company’s training programs as do any other individual. It is down to your employer to make sure that you are not stopped from taking part in these training courses just because of your disability. As such the employer should take certain considerations into account when organising training events. They should be sure that:

  • They provide adequate training for any special equipment that is to be used in the workplace.
  • If the disabled person is limited to the number of hours they can attend a training course then training should be given over an extended course.
  • Re-train employees that have become disabled since taking the job to enable them to remain in their current position.
  • Have sign language interpreters available if needed and provide material in different formats.
  • Be aware of problems with locations of the training course, for example does it have wheelchair accessibility.

The disability act in the workplace must be taken seriously by your employer and the employer has to make sure that they:

  • Make sure that any other staff fully understand the policy towards disabled people and their rights in the workplace.
  • Carry out any obligations in the training to make adjustments for disabled employees.
  • Set standards within the organisation or workplace by giving examples of good practise.
  • Provide accessibility to services for disabled people.
  • Make sure all staff who come into contact with the public have disability equality training.

Workplace Disability While Employed

If you are currently working and become disabled for any reason then you have certain rights and your employer will probably keep you in your position but your employer also has to consider the responsibility of the employment arrangements or any features of the workplace that might now put you at a disadvantage because of your disability.

If there are problems then it is your employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments to the working environment. The disability discrimination act states that it would be within reason for your employer to spend at least as much money on making changes to the working environment as it would cost them to recruit and train a replacement.

Disability Discrimination At Workplace

It is obviously against the law to discriminate an employee in the workplace because they have a disability. Employees are protected from discrimination at all stages of recruitment, workplace terms and conditions after securing a job, and dismissal from employment on account of disability. Also, the employers have a mandatory duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimization of the disabled employees in the workplace as far as possible.

However, those employees, who feel that they have been discriminated against on the basis of disability can make a complaint to the Commission. They can also make a complaint to the Commission if they think that their employer has refused unreasonably in order to accommodate their disability where they have made a reasonable request to their employer, to bring about some minimal changes in working arrangements, and their request has been unreasonably denied. All the complaints of discrimination made to the Commission are resolved through a process which is called as conciliation.

Making Workplace Disability Adjustments

Since, people with disabilities encounter a myriad of barriers in their everyday lives, ranging from inaccessible buildings, transport or websites to poor communication or service facilities. Reasonable accommodations are made to help reduce these barriers so as to procure equality of access and opportunity for all. Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 employers must make all the necessary and reasonable adjustments for a disabled person offered employment, or to an existing employee with newly developed disability, in order to enable them to meet the genuine requirements of the job profile.

Adaptations for people with visual and hearing impairments

  1. Assistive listening devices: for example the use of amplified telephone handset for a hearing impaired worker to enable use of telephone.
  2. Screen Reading Software, which will read out loud (into headphones), all the information on the computer screen. This adjustment is particularly useful for visually impaired employees and is done by the help of softwares such as JAWS and screen magnification software such as Zoom Text. Also, an optical scanner can be installed, that scan printed material and ‘read it’ into a computer or voice synthesizer.
  3. Colour coding of files.
  4. Flashing and audio alarms.
  5. People with dexterity problems can do all the typing work by Speech to text dictation software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Alterations to the office environment

  1. Installation of Wheelchair Ramps/Lifts.
  2. Provision of handicap parking
  3. Corridors and office space must be made free from unnecessary obstacles.
  4. Moving appropriate desk location to accommodate an employee with a disability.
  5. Special private rest space or room for employees. Example: it is particularly of help for patients of chronic fatigue syndrome
  6. Alternative office furniture such as height adjustable desk or ergonomic chairs.

Flexible Working Hours

  1. Time off must be provided for medical appointments.
  2. Flexible duty-time to accommodate an individual.
  3. Timely breaks to allow individuals take daily medications.
  4. Permission to come late to the office to accommodate sleeping patterns.
  5. Off time to facilitate mobility training for employees who are blind as part of their induction into the office workplace.

Induction and Training

  1. Appoint sign language interpreters if necessary, to give office training to hearing impaired employees.
  2. Notes and handouts must be given out in advance, so as to facilitate learning in disabled employees.
  3. Allow audio recorders at training sessions.
  4. The instructor must be aware that individuals learn in different ways and when training people in you may have to adjust your teaching methods, and pay heed to the dignity of the employee with disability.
  5. Written materials in alternative format, such as in large print or electronic (e.g. MS Word .doc) format must be provided.

However, there is still a culture prevailing in some of the offices, wherein employees don’t feel comfortable to come out in open about their health condition or disability, as they are afraid, they will be wrongly viewed as being less capable, not considered for promotion or even get dismissed from their job. It is a gross public misconception that young people with disabilities would be less competent or prove to be more costly to employ. It is a huge challenge to break down such stereotypes. It thus becomes mandatory for the government policies to be used to incentivise companies and organisations to employ more people with disabilities, ensuring that the employers have abundant access to the government grants and advice when they need it. Also, the provision of more co-ordinated support, including the business and research loans and grants for disabled people who are self-employed, and the better enforcement of the Equality Act is the key fundamental to success.



  1. My husband was an employee of Goodyear Tire & Rubber for 17 years and developed multiple sclerosis during his employment. Out of the blue, he was told he could no longer come to work. There were no accommodations made, no offers of other jobs…nothing. All of his work records were flawless-job performance, safety, and attendance. We were advised to file a disability discrimination lawsuit, which we did. We lost our case, as well as the appeal. Our attorneys told us the ADA is not worth the paper it is written on. This happened in 2004 and we struggle financially to this day.
    Something has to be done for disabled workers to help them keep their homes. This law has to be changed to be more effective not only for the disabled but for the primary caregivers.

  2. I am employee at McDonald’s and in January of 2010, I was in a car accident and I tore my back muscle from top to bottom. When I returned to work after being on medical leave, I was unable to perform some of the duties I was able to do before the accident. After a while of not working those certain positions, I was then put back on those positions. I specifically told my employers that I am unable to work those positions because ever since the accident, my back has never been the same. I even brought in numerous doctor’s notes and still no change. While working those positions, I undergo excrutiating pain in my back muscle. I almost always tell them that I cannot work those positions for the reasons explained above, and they act apathetically and I am forced to work that position, and since then, I can feel my back getting worse and worse and yet it was doing so good healing. I do not know what I should do if they don’t care what I go through. Any advice????

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