How to make your workplace disability-friendly

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People with disability face added barriers in finding employment, despite the fact that many have a lot to offer prospective employers.

Key points

  • There are many benefits for businesses employing people with disability, but not every workplace is disability-friendly
  • In order to give employees with disability the same opportunities as other employees and to help them reach their full potential, there are some workplace features you should think about
  • The main topics to think about for a disability-friendly workplace are the built environment, the cultural environment and adjustments for individual workers

A workplace environment that is not disability-friendly can be a major barrier to a person with disability being employed, as well as impact their ability to hold that job position in the long term.

You should support employees by creating a work environment that is disability-friendly, not only because it will mean you get more out of your workers and they will have improved wellbeing, but also because you are required to make some workplace adjustments under Australian law.

The physical environment

The most obvious features which can make your workplace disability-friendly are the physical features.

Many people understand ramps are needed on buildings to make them accessible for people using wheelchairs and there needs to be an accessible toilet available, but there is much more an employer can do to transform their site into a disability-friendly space.

Doorways need to be wide enough to pass through easily – particularly for people with walking aids or equipment, grab rails should be installed on ramps for safety and non-slip floor coverings can also be important.

Loud and competing noises can be unfriendly for people with sensory disabilities, as can too much or not enough light.

Reducing noise with the right flooring and wall coverings for soft acoustics, and removing any unnecessary noises, such as loud speakers playing the radio. You could also provide earmuffs for situations or rooms where the noise is unavoidable.

As for lighting, ensure there is plenty of natural light let into the space and that this is brightened with extra lighting where needed, but avoid flashing or unnaturally coloured lights.

Any meeting rooms or common areas, such as a staff kitchen, should also be accessible so that employees with disability can participate in the same activities and access the same places as other employees.

For example, if the board room you use for staff meetings has steps leading into it, this would not be considered a disability-friendly location for a meeting.

Aside from the building, the types of technology you make available to employees can also make your workplace more disability-friendly.

For example, a person who is blind or has low vision might need to be able to use a screen reader when working on a computer.

You can read more about the kinds of assistive technology employees might find useful in the workplace in our article, ‘Assistive technology for support in the workplace’.

The cultural environment

The acceptance and awareness of disability in your organisation can be a big factor in whether your workplace is disability-friendly or not.

A disability-friendly culture is hard to measure, but in essence it should mean that a person with disability has all the same opportunities as a person without disability in gaining work and working for your organisation.

They should also be respected and have their employment rights protected, including the right to work in a safe environment without discrimination.

Sometimes, employees with disability experience discrimination from their colleagues or managers, so it may be helpful for people across your organisation to undertake disability awareness training to reduce the chance any discrimination occurs due to an unconscious bias.

This training could include online modules, such as those provided for free through Disability Awareness, a Government-funded initiative, or in person, for example through a consultancy service.

If you are in contact with a Disability Employment Service they can direct you to disability awareness courses.

Disability Actions Plans are the best way to set out what your organisation is going to do to make your workplace inclusive, particularly when it comes to organisational culture as this can be more difficult to track than physical features.

A Disability Action Plan should include actions for how you will remove barriers for people with disability, such as in recruitment processes, employment policies, promotions and communications, and timelines for when these actions will be completed.

You can read more about this in our article, ‘Disability Action Plans – why your organisation needs one’.


Every person with disability is unique, so while your workplace might generally be disability-friendly, you still need to be aware that employees with disability may need further or different adjustments.

For example, they may need more flexible work hours or the option of working from home at certain times.

Some people with disability may ask for more time to do certain tasks, for information to be provided in an accessible format, or may request a private office to minimise distractions in the work environment.

It is your responsibility under the Australian Disability Discrimination Act as an employer to make reasonable adjustments to enable your employees with disability to work on an equal basis with their colleagues.

If you do not make an effort to make these adjustments, it may be considered discrimination against someone living with disability. This is unless you are able to prove that the adjustment is unreasonable, it would be too expensive, too difficult or take too much time.

You can read more about the types of adjustments employees can ask for and the process of a request for adjustments in our article, ‘Reasonable adjustments in the workplace’.

The article also contains information about funding available for some of the costs of reasonable adjustments, through the JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund.

In what ways is your workplace disability-friendly? Tell us in the comments below.

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