Peta* has been legally blind since she was 15, when she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease. Now in her 50s and working full-time in the NSW public sector, Peta uses a range of assistive technology in her daily personal and working life. This includes her smartphone, Google maps, the Guide Dog app and others. She also uses a white cane when in public.
The workplace adjustments that Peta needs to allow her to work on her computer are basic. A larger monitor at work, software such as JAWS and other magnifiers, and an IT environment that allows her JAWS screen reader to access the tools she needs like Microsoft OneDrive, Teams and SharePoint.
Peta says, “I’m not disabled when I’m at home” – or when the environment she’s navigating has been designed with accessibility in mind, and in consultation with those intended to use the accessibility features. “When inclusive design is built in and checked at the beginning, it removes so many barriers.”
Colour is important for Peta. If something is big, bold and bright enough she may be able to tell that it’s there. She can’t see black at all. Peta relied on the red coffee mugs in the work kitchen to avoid burning herself if someone put down their coffee somewhere unexpected. Then one day all the mugs were suddenly replaced with black ones.
Imagine trying to use a locker that has a manual number combination if the numbers can only be identified visually, and you can’t see them?
Touch screens, red/green indicator lights, and touch-free sensor buttons for lifts, meeting rooms and bathrooms might seem high-tech and have benefits for some people. But if they have no audio or tactile features, how will someone like Peta even know they are there, let alone what to do to make them work?
Imagine using a bathroom with no way of telling if the door has locked properly. Until someone walks past too close to the sensor and the door opens while you’re in there.
Imagine being asked to prepare for an important meeting, but the agenda, presentations and other documents are sent last-minute and appear blank. This is what it’s like for Peta when documents don’t even vaguely meet web accessibility guidelines.
Before COVID, Peta was already working from home 2 days a week. She says many of the technical issues that she experienced at the time were quickly resolved once everyone needed to work from home.
Peta speaks of sensory fatigue. She is always listening and using her other senses more than someone who relies on sight. Her commute to the office involves walking to a bus stop, then catching a bus and two trains. Exhausting enough for anyone. A day in the office can easily be a 12-hour exercise for her.
Peta says kindness is the thing she values most in people, and it’s sadly often lacking. Her team has some simple rules, like if they are going to a meeting outside their office space, everyone goes together so if anyone is late or lost, at least they are all late or lost together.
Peta says small courtesies go a long way - introduce yourself if you approach her and let her know before you walk away from talking to her. If you find yourself at the desk next to her for the day, introduce yourself. If you meet her at an event, don’t expect her to know your name just because you are wearing a name tag.
Peta suggests education and awareness training for the immediate team of someone with a disability – specific to the type of disability, not just general diversity and inclusion or disability awareness training.
People with disability have superpowers, Peta says. Hers include an extra strong memory, attention span and problem-solving skills.
“Workplace adjustments are seen as compensating, giving someone something. You’ll compensate for my deficiencies, but you don’t leverage off my strengths.”
“If you’re a parent, you probably understand just wanting the best for each of your children and wanting to do everything you can to set them up for success in life. What do they need to realise their best potential? We don’t see it as an imposition. This is how workplaces should think of their people.”
Peta says she sees some hope in the future, when she realises her son and his peers wouldn’t even refer to disability, only to diversity.
“When we come to adjustments in the workplace, there's some things you do for people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. There are some things that you do for women if they’re breastfeeding… if someone has religious commitments … we all value diversity.”
“Everyone is on a spectrum for everything – mental health, language competency, technology etc – let’s just focus on how to help everyone bring their best self to work.”
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual
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.
01 Dec 2023
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