11 March 2019

How to employ people with disability in general practice

Disability

slightly-taller stool, an adjustable desk, a hand rail. It actually doesn’t take much to adapt a GP clinic or a pharmacy to suit an employee with a physical disability.

Dr Hannah Jackson, the co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, would know.

She’s had osteogenesis imperfecta her whole life and uses a manual wheelchair. But that didn’t stop her getting into medical school, interning at the Royal Hobart Hospital and working as a GP in Lindisfarne, Tasmania.

The workplace adjustments were “pretty basic really”, she said. She was given a desk that could be manually wound up and down, which made it the perfect height for her.

“And an electric bed is the other thing – so, being able to electronically adjust the height of the bed and the angle of the head and the legs just makes examining so much easier,” she said.

The majority of businesses are genuinely open to employing people with disability but lack the confidence and know-how to make it happen, according to research commissioned by the federal government in 2017.

To de-mystify the process, the federal government has launched a new Employer Toolkit through the JobAccess website.

“It’s a really good practical way for employers to find out information that perhaps they might not have even been aware of before,” said Dr Jackson.

The website contains a series of short videos outlining the kinds of support that are available to employers looking to hire a person with a disability.

“These resources are specifically designed to be user-friendly so time-poor, corporate professionals can quickly access and absorb the practical information to assist them navigate disability employment,” said Sarah Henderson, the assistant minister for social services, housing and disability services.

If adjustments to the workplace are required for an employee with a disability, JobAccess can cover the cost through the Employment Assistance Fund.

Sam Flood, a pharmacist at Capital Chemist in Melbourne whose disability means he uses a motorised wheelchair but can walk short distances, got full financial support from JobAccess to make adjustments to his workplace.

When Mr Flood finished his four-year bachelor’s degree at the University of Tasmania, he was initially unable to find any pharmacies that would take him on for his compulsory internship year. 

“I was watching everybody else get on with their careers and I was still trying to find someone who would actually employ me,” he said.

The University of Tasmania ran a social media campaign, and Mr Flood was offered a job in Melbourne.

Like many pharmacies, Capital Chemist had dispensing computers on high benches, so JobAccess paid for a taller bar stool.

“So, I’m not reaching up to do everything, which is way better on my back,” said Mr Flood.

Mr Flood can take the slow route around to the back of the dispensary in his wheelchair, but it is faster to tackle the two stairs walking.

“I’ve had some hand rails installed, which makes it a whole lot easier,” he said.

GP clinics might feel uncertain about the process for hiring people with disability, but “a lot of the barriers are assumed and perceived and might not actually be real,” said Dr Jackson.