Needing to do it differently doesn’t mean you can’t do it

December 2023

Anika* has worked in frontline service delivery for more than 20 years. She joined the public sector at 21, a year after being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a degenerative autoimmune disease.

In her 30s, one of her eyes was affected and she’s now legally blind in that eye. She developed severe photophobia (sensitivity to light) and trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain disorder that involves sudden, severe facial pain.

Anika has learned to manage the chronic pain, but needs to pace her energy, her mobility and her eye use. She now works from home full-time.

Anika relies on assistive technology such as ZoomText. She says access to technology has come a long way thanks to the COVID lockdowns, however she still experiences some barriers and challenges with it. Sometimes system upgrades cause issues for her screen reader. She has to be constantly learning and finding solutions.

Anika also talks about the unpredictability of her condition from day-to-day, hour-to-hour. “No day is the same, I may get up and feel ok but within an hour it’s really impacted my ability to even function.”

“Having a manager who allows me to work the way I need to, when I need to, is essential and allows me to contribute my best. If I couldn’t work from home, if I couldn’t work staggered hours, I couldn’t work.”

“I need a manager and people around me who understand that sometimes I have to just stop what I’m doing and walk away, because if I don’t then I’ll be off work for a month.”

A few years ago, Anika did need to take a few months off work. When she returned, she encountered new challenges.

“Through my return-to-work journey I experienced many barriers, challenges and assumptions. The assumptions about my health and what I could do was disappointing and impacted others as well as me.”

“I found that work was being withheld and redirected without my knowledge. I felt undervalued, excluded and that my autonomy was taken away.”

“Just because I couldn’t do the role the same way as I used to, didn’t mean I couldn’t do it at all. It just meant I needed to do things differently and needed a little more time to do it.”

Anika says that those involved with her return-to-work plan left her out of the conversation.

“The focus on duty of care led to managers making decisions about my health and what I could do, without any consultation.”

“A lot of HR processes are black and white, while many people with disability have to live in the grey.”

Anika says that through her commitment and persistence, and with the right workplace adjustments, she was back to full-time work 12 months later.

Anika believes some frontline teams are very traditional in their structure and ways of working, so “if someone needs to do things differently, it can be seen as favouritism.”

But flexibility is increasingly common, and it’s proving to benefit organisations and their customers as well as staff.

She encourages others who might be hesitant to ask for workplace adjustments to join their Disability Employee Network, which will offer support and advocacy.

“Apply for a workforce adjustment passport if possible. You don’t have to tell the organisation what you have or prove that you have it, just what you need to participate equally in your workplace.”

Anika asks managers to remember that approving a workplace adjustment isn’t the end of the story. “Have ongoing conversations and be adaptable, and watch your team succeed.”

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual

Information alert

For more workplace adjustment information, NSW Government managers and employees can visit the Public Service Commission website or contact their Diversity & Inclusion, Work, Health & Safety or HR teams. You may also wish to reach out to your Disability Employee Network (DEN).

If you have trouble accessing workplace adjustments or experience disability discrimination at work, please contact Anti-Discrimination NSW on 1800 670 812.

Last updated:

01 Dec 2023

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