Access for All: Is Your Workplace Meeting Standards?

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is no longer just an ideal, it’s a necessity. 

Are you among the mere 22% of employers that know one-in-six Australians have a form of disability? That insight is from the APM Disability Diversity and Inclusivity Index of Australian Workplaces. The study also found that 58% of workers with a disability often feel anxious or nervous revealing their disability to their employer.

Yet eight in 10 businesses want to hire people with a disability. 

Accessibility plays a key role in achieving this goal. By removing barriers for individuals with disabilities, workplaces can unlock a wider talent pool and foster a more equitable environment where everyone thrives.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992 is a key piece of legislation in Australia, ensuring equal access and combating discrimination against people with disabilities.

The DDA and Your Workplace

The DDA is a comprehensive law that prohibits discrimination based on disability across various aspects of life – past, present, and future disabilities as well as disabilities that people are assumed to have.

Temporary and permanent disabilities diseases or illnesses covered under the Act include:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Sensory
  • Neurological
  • Learning, and
  • Psychosocial, as well as 
  • Physical disfigurement
  • Medical conditions, and 
  • Work-related injuries

Section 23 specifically focuses on access to premises, ensuring people with disabilities have equal opportunities to access and use workplaces. This complements other sections of the DDA that cover areas such as employment, education, and access to goods and services.

Discrimination under Section 23 occurs when someone with a disability faces disadvantages in accessing a workplace compared to someone without a disability. For instance, a workplace lacking ramps or having narrow doorways could be deemed discriminatory.

Premises Covered by the DDA

Section 23 applies to a wide range of public and private premises, including workplaces, ensuring accessibility for all. Public footpaths, educational institutions, shops, parks, public transport facilities, and government buildings are all covered. 

Non-discriminatory access to these premises is crucial for ensuring full participation in society.

However, there are exemptions – this Australian Human Rights Commission website offers more information.

Accessibility Challenges and Solutions

Many workplaces still face accessibility challenges. Common barriers include uneven surfaces, lack of accessible toilets, stairs without ramps, and narrow corridors. These limitations can lead to discrimination complaints under the DDA.

Fortunately, many accessibility issues can be resolved. A recent case involved a restaurant that lacked a wheelchair ramp. After a complaint, the restaurant installed a ramp, ensuring everyone could enjoy their dining experience. These examples demonstrate the positive impact of addressing accessibility concerns.

Conduct an accessibility audit to identify any barriers

Develop an accessibility plan outlining improvements and timelines

Invest in accessibility features like ramps, wider doorways, and accessible restrooms, and

Ensure there is clear signage and adequate lighting in all areas.

The above points cover physical accessibility, but your processes, policies and staff training should also come under the spotlight. For example, this could be where a business only offers wheelchair access to pricier seating areas in a theatre/club, or refuses to serve someone with slurred speech with a brain injury assuming they’re intoxicated.