One in 5 Australians identify as a person with disability. Australians with disability are often denied the legal right, entitlement and the same life outcomes that other Australians expect. While some may access specialist disability services, all people with disability have a legal entitlement and a right to access mainstream opportunities, services, programs, public events and infrastructure.
People with disability can experience exclusion and less access which can result in:
- poor health
- lower levels of education
- training and employment participation
- social exclusion, and
- lack of access to goods and facilities.
A number of national and international mechanisms seek to address this inequity.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an overarching agreement, to which Australia is a signatory. It requires governments to consult and actively involve people with disability, including children, through their representative organisations.
In Australia, the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (NDS) underpins the principles adopted in the CRPD. The principles ensure people with disability and their representatives are included in developing, designing and implementing policies, programs and services.
We are a member of the National Disability Strategy Interdepartmental Committee (NDSIDC) which is responsible for carrying out the National Disability Strategy at the national level. Members of the NDSIDC formally agreed to develop agency specific protocols to engage people with disability.
The main purpose of the National Disability Strategy (NDS) is to promote the equal and active participation of people with disability. This ensures your needs, as well as those of your families and carers, are taken into account when designing and delivering products. It also assists when considering employing staff who in turn deliver services.
This Protocol applies to our entire agency and is designed to guide us in the practical application of the NDS.
All staff should consider how their actions and behaviour impact on the lives of people with disability, their families or carers. This also applies to our responsibilities as an employer and how we deliver our services to people with disability.
We will ensure all of the following:
- stakeholder and customer engagement strategies consider the individual and complex needs of people with disability
- the principles of universal access and inclusion for people with disability are considered in the physical and digital environments
- staff are familiar with the principles and objectives of the strategy
- we listen and understand the individual needs of people with disability
- Service Officers understand how to provide services for people with disability
- the disability community and stakeholders are involved in the design of our service delivery policy and services
- we increase our representation of people with disability in the workforce
- we employ and foster an accessible and inclusive workplace as outlined in the Workplace Inclusion and Diversity Action Plan 2019-20
- the continuous review of our performance to meet the objectives of the NDS.
We already apply the principles of the NDS to improve business outcomes through our:
- co-design approach to service delivery
- High Definition Video Conferencing Pilot
- workplace accessibility and inclusion
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability
- multicultural services for people with disability
- nominee arrangements
- Social Work Services
- staff education
- intervention process for vulnerable customers
- accessible communication for customers.
Co-designing is about early and ongoing engagement with the community by providing opportunities for richer customer insight and participation in the design of the services they use. We use a co-design approach that includes customers, staff and stakeholders to design better services and outcomes for customers and government.
The agency uses a range of customer and community engagement methods including face to face forums and interviews, online discussion groups, and telephone satisfaction surveys to ensure people with disability have a voice in service delivery design.
We aim to be an employer of choice for people with disability.
We have implemented workplace diversity and accessibility plans and strategies that underpin our commitment to providing equal opportunity for our staff including those with disability.
Our approach was developed following discussion with staff, and partnerships with the Australian Network on Disability and other government departments. It focusses on ensuring all aspects of the workplace are accessible and inclusive to employees.
We also have a range of practices and strategies designed to improve workplace accessibility, including:
- employment support for people with disability
- National Disability Access Coordinator – provides information and advice about the recruitment, employment, career development and retention of people with temporary or permanent disability in the agency
- the Employee Network on Disability – open to all staff with disability, staff that care for a person with disability and staff with an interest in disability inclusion and participation
- the Accessibility Support Unit – provides support and training to staff with accessibility needs, including those who use assistive technology and telecommunication products
- reasonable adjustment policy and processes – removes barriers for staff with disability, providing equal access to learning and career advancement opportunities
- corporate memberships and Senior Executive Disability Champions.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability are among the most disadvantaged of Australians. They often face barriers within their own communities including barriers to accessing disability support services.
When engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, it is important to be aware that ‘disability’ can be a new conversation or concept in many communities. This is because people are reluctant to identify themselves as a person with disability and often do not seek help with disability services.
We have a network of Indigenous Specialist Officers (ISOs) who work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. They act as a connection point for promoting our programs and services. ISOs also help to identify service gaps and trends for customers and the community including the disability service sector.
ISOs aim to increase the level of understanding, awareness and service uptake by this group and their communities. Appropriate messages are conveyed through established relationships, service delivery experiences and capacity building activities as well as internal and external information management.
As advocates, ISOs help vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people achieve outcomes that improve the level of opportunity for individuals with disability and the community.
Our 2019-22 Multicultural Servicing Strategy ensures our services are responsive to the needs of multicultural customers. This includes providing free interpreting and translation services so customers may do their business with us in their language. We also have access to Auslan interpreters to assist customers who are deaf or have hearing loss.
We have Multicultural Service Officers (MSOs) who assist migrant and refugee communities connect with Australian Government services. MSOs also consult with communities about the impact of government initiatives on their communities.
Customers can, for some payments and services, make arrangements to authorise a person or organisation to make limited enquiries on their behalf.
Arrangements can include authorising someone to either:
- receive copies of mail
- act and make changes on a customer’s behalf
- to receive payments on a customer’s behalf.
People with disability can take up these arrangements either:
- on an ongoing basis
- if they are not confident to manage their business with us
- if they need help for a period of time, such as during hospitalisation.
Social workers maintain strong connections with key disability community organisations and act as a referral point for our staff. Social workers provide assessment, short term counselling and support for customers claiming assistance from us.
Social workers are available in many of our service centres around Australia or you can speak to one over the phone. They also provide outreach services for vulnerable customers in the community.
Through their work with vulnerable and marginalised members of the community, social workers often identify disability or barriers to access and inclusion, which may not have been identified earlier. They also assist customers to access suitable payments and other services.
We provide a range of self paced and facilitated training programs which are designed to increase knowledge and awareness of disability.
Current training programs include:
- Workplace diversity and inclusion
- Reasonable adjustment
- Disability awareness
- Disability confidence
- Social inclusion mental health awareness.
We also maintain an Employee Network on Disability, which connects employees with disability, carers and employers with an interest in disability employment. It is an information exchange network where people can also share experiences. It is used as a key resource for developing our disability employment strategy and programs.
We have implemented an intervention process to review the circumstances of vulnerable customers when their payment is suspended or cancelled for a minimum of 6 weeks as a result of an automatic suspension or cancellation activity.
The process helps proactively identify and make contact with those at risk ensuring the customer is connected to appropriate local support. The intervention is based on the customer’s record and any indication of a history of mental illness, homelessness, or being frail, aged or disconnected from support and community.
A shift to provide more information through digital media has helped significantly to provide accessible communication and engagement for people with disability including those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological disabilities. Improved online accessibility includes:
- transcripts and captions for Videos on Demand (VOD) - every video, audio and other multimedia on the website includes an accessible transcript and a live captioning option
- text to speech options - website content can be read by an integrated screen reading application
- improved quality of reading order - users with screen readers can access the information
- alternative file formats - including Portable Document Format (PDF) and Word Document (DOCX).
We support the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy, which is a mandated strategy to ensure all Australian Government websites and associated web applications meet internationally recognised benchmarks for web accessibility, and that they implement the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The WCAG guidelines aim to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organisations and governments internationally. The WCAG identifies techniques to create and manage the web in ways that are more accessible to people with disability such as assistive technologies like screen readers.
Hypothetical scenarios to suggest ways to employ the strategy in your work place:
- staff education
- Social Work Services and customers who are at risk
- workplace diversity and accessibility.
Sally is a Service Officer in Queensland who found the ‘Protocol for engaging with people with disability’ and National Disability Strategy (NDS) helpful in improving her interactions with people with disability. 'When I started working in the service centre, I lacked confidence and felt anxious when interacting with some customers.'
Sally previously worked in a call centre, and wasn’t sure how to interact with certain customers face to face.
John, Sally’s team leader, noticed that she was having difficulty serving some customers and interacting with people with disability. John brought it up during a coaching session.
'John suggested that we take a look at the agency’s ‘Protocol for engaging with people with disability’. The Protocol outlines the agency’s responsibilities under the NDS. I was able to see how much the agency was doing to apply principles of the NDS to provide services for people with disability,' Sally said.
Using the Protocol as a guide, John and Sally were able to identify resources and training programs that would help Sally feel more comfortable interacting with customers with disability.
'I completed a number of different training programs that were listed in the Protocol, including Disability Awareness training, Mental Health Awareness training and Social Inclusion training. John also organised some mentoring for me,' she said.
'I now feel confident dealing with customers with disability. I have the skills and knowledge to ensure they get the best possible outcome from their interactions with us.'
Reading the Protocol and understanding the NDS meant both Sally and John had a better understanding and appreciation of how formal and informal training builds confidence when engaging people with disability. They were also able to share this information with their colleagues to create a more inclusive service centre.
As a social worker, Joan plays an important role in helping the agency meet its obligations under the NDS. Kelly, as a customer, needs a tailored approach based on her personal situation.
Joan reflects, 'When I first met Kelly, she was having a rough time - she had severe anxiety, was homeless and had limited contact with family and friends.'
'These factors were impacting Kelly’s ability to meet her Mutual Obligation Requirements for her parenting payment.'
Kelly decided it was time to do something. She visited her local service centre and met Joan.
Joan assessed Kelly’s situation and identified a range of personal and mental health issues that were impacting Kelly’s ability to meet her Mutual Obligation Requirements.
'We focused on identifying Kelly’s strengths and how she could reach her work and participation goals.'
Joan also provided counselling for Kelly and discussed referral options for further support and assistance, including referral to a general practitioner to discuss a mental health care plan.
'To ensure Kelly was getting adequate support, I updated answers to some questions on Kelly’s Job Seeker Classification Instrument. She was also referred to an allied health professional for an Employment Services Assessment.'
As a result of the Employment Services Assessment which also considered the medical evidence provided by Kelly, her Job Plan with her Employment Services Provider was updated to modify her Mutual Obligation Requirements and to incorporate regular counselling.
'I also referred Kelly to a women’s housing and support service. The service managed to find her some emergency accommodation,' Joan added.
Joan felt that her sense of satisfaction extends beyond just helping Kelly, 'I get a huge sense of satisfaction knowing that I am helping the agency meet its obligations under the NDS.'
Joan didn't know much about the NDS until she read more about it in the Protocol for engaging with people with disability. 'After reading the Protocol and the NDS I realised how social workers can play an important role in meeting the agency’s commitments to helping customers with disability.'
Barry, a Region Manager, found the ‘Protocol for engaging with people with disability’ and NDS useful while planning for the relocation of a service centre.
'There was a lot to consider in designing a suitable layout. Fortunately, a colleague referred me to the Protocol. The NDS helped me consider what I needed in order to get equitable access for all.'
Working with the architect and Customer Service Property Branch, Barry was able to use the Protocol as a guide. 'With the design of the new office I was confident we took into account accessibility and the needs of people with disability.'
Barry is proud of the new building. 'The new office meets the needs of staff and customers. We have been able to create a space that is accessible to everyone as well as meeting the agency’s obligations under the NDS.'
You can read more on these websites:
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides access to the Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities
- The National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is located on the Department of Social Services website – is a 10 year national policy framework for improving life for Australians with disability, their families and carers
- National Ethnic Disability Alliance is the national peak organisation representing the rights and interests of people from non-English speaking background with disability, their families and carers throughout Australia
- Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2019-23 is our formal commitment to a workplace culture that builds respect, fosters inclusiveness, promotes diversity and embraces the unique skills and qualities of all our staff
- Australian Public Service Act 1999
- Commonwealth Disability Services Act 1986
- Disability Discrimination Act 1992
- The Australian Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory organisation that reports to the Parliament through the Attorney-General.