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Understanding Disability


Queensland Women’s Week, held from 6 to 12 March, included more than 140 events and activities across the state, offering something for everyone. Volunteering Sunshine Coast was proud to be present during “Celebrating Ability and Equity” lunch organized by Equity Works on 9 March. The event featured talented women sharing their goals and aspirations for equality. Among the main topics raised throughout the celebration was understanding disability. Whilst challenging, disability is a normal part of the human experience.  Disability is common in Australia, and a normal part of life which contributes to the vibrant diversity of the human experience. Over 4 million people in Australia have some form of disability, and the likelihood of disability increases with age. Understanding what disability is, and how to best accommodate people with disability, is the first and most important step in creating a disability confident workforce.

What is a disability?

There are many different kinds of disability and they can result from accidents, illness or genetic disorders. A disability may affect mobility, ability to learn things, or ability to communicate easily, and some people may have more than one. A disability may be visible or hidden, may be permanent or temporary and may have minimal or substantial impact on a person’s abilities. Although some people are born with disability, many people acquire disability.

Employment and people with disability

Unfortunately a lot more people with disability are unemployed than those without disability. However, of the people with disability who are employed, there is representation across many occupations. Professionals, managers and administrators are the largest occupational grouping and this represents 37% of people with disability in employment. Clerical sales and service workers are the second largest grouping representing approximately 30%, and the remaining occupational categories include tradespersons, production, and transport workers as well as labourers and related workers representing approximately 33% of people with disability in employment.

Disability etiquette

Communicating with a person with disability can seem daunting to some. Some people are concerned that they will embarrass themselves or a person with disability by saying or doing the wrong thing. Though these concerns usually come from a good place, it is entirely unnecessary. The most important thing to remember is to treat each person with respect.

Basic tips:

  • Avoid asking personal questions about someone’s disability.
  • Be considerate of the extra time it might take for a person to do or say something.
  • Be polite and patient when offering assistance, and wait until your offer is accepted. Listen or ask for specific instructions. Be prepared for your offer to be refused.
  • Relax. Anyone can make mistakes. Offer an apology if you feel you’ve caused embarrassment.  Keep a sense of humour and be willing to communicate.


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