Working with a disability
Like all employees, people with disabilities can bring a range of skills, talents and abilities to the workplace and there is a range of supports to help them find and keep employment. Some of these are for people with disabilities who are working – see ‘Employees with disabilities’ below. Other supports are for people with disabilities who are unemployed – see ‘Looking for work’ below.
Employees with disabilities
If you develop a disability
If you have a job and become disabled – for example, through an accident or illness – you may want to return to work at some time. In this situation, it is important to sit down with your employer and discuss openly your options. Depending on the nature of your disability and the type of job you have, there may be no problem with you returning to work. In fact, your disability may have no impact on the type of job you have or your ability to perform it. However, your disability may require that your workplace be adapted or you may need special equipment in order to perform your job. If your disability prevents you from returning to your previous job, there is a range of options available – see ‘Looking for work’ below.
If you become more disabled or need further support
In situations where you already have a disability that has altered or is progressive, you should also sit down with your employer and discuss your available options and needs. Some of the issues you might discuss may involve whether or not your existing job requires further adaptation, whether alterations are required to the premises and whether your working conditions and work practices will need to change. You should also be frank and realistic about your own ability to continue to work.
Options at work
The onset or progression of a disability can be a devastating event. However, it does not always mean that you will have to give up your job. Employers are obliged to make reasonable accommodations for staff with disabilities and often, you can continue working in an adapted workplace or with equipment and changes to your work practice and conditions of employment. Some possible options for you and your employer include:
- Partial re-deployment which allows you to continue to do part of your original job (either part-time or with the addition of new tasks). You can drop certain tasks and take on others that are currently carried out by other colleagues.
- Re-deployment: If you are unable to perform your previous job, but could carry out another function within the organisation, re-training and re-deployment are options you and your employer can consider.
- Flexible working arrangements: If you have a disability, being able to work part-time, flexitime, job share or work from home may be a deciding factor in whether you can resume your working life.
- Adapting the workplace and assistive technology: an accessible workplace and assistive technology can allow you to perform your job without difficulty. The Workplace/Equipment Adaptation Grant provides funding towards the costs of modifications or special equipment that will allow a disabled person to take up an offer of employment or to remain in employment.
- Personal Reader Grant: If you are blind or visually impaired and you need help with job-related reading, you may be entitled to a grant to allow you to employ a personal reader.
Supports for employers
Finding and keeping capable, experienced staff that you can rely on is important to all employers. There are a number of support schemes available to you if a member of your staff acquires a disability or if you hire a new staff member who has a disability. These employment supports are provided by the Department of Social Protection.
- Workplace/Equipment Adaptation Scheme: If you have to make changes, you may be able to get this grant towards the costs of adapting your premises or buying equipment.
- The Employee Retention Grant Scheme can help you to retain an employee who has acquired an illness, condition or impairment that affects their ability to carry out their job.
- The Disability Awareness Training Scheme is open to all companies in the private sector. Disability awareness training can help your staff provide the best service to customers or clients with disabilities and ensures that they also develop and maintain good working relationships with colleagues with disabilities.
- The Wage Subsidy Scheme provides financial incentives to employers, outside the public sector, to employ certain people with disabilities who work between 21 and 39 hours per week.
The Employers' Disability Information Service is for employers on employing staff with disabilities. Its information and advice is available through the telephone helpline on (01) 676 2014 and the website, employerdisabilityinfo.ie.
Employment rights of people with disabilities
Employees with disabilities have the same employment rights as other employees.
Equality legislation: The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 outlaw discrimination on the grounds of disability in employment, including training and recruitment. However the Employment Equality Acts state that an employer is not obliged to recruit or retain a person who is not fully competent or capable of undertaking the duties attached to a job. If you have a mental health difficulty there are 2 booklets, Equality and mental health: what the law means for your workplace and Equality and mental health: how the law can help you.
Reasonable accommodation: The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 require employers to take reasonable steps to accommodate the needs of employees and prospective employees with disabilities. Reasonable accommodation can be defined as some modification to the tasks or structure of a job or workplace, which allows the qualified employee with a disability to fully do the job and enjoy equal employment opportunities. However, under EU legislation, employers are not obliged to provide special treatment or facilities if the cost of doing so is excessive or disproportionate.
Health and safety: Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 employers must ensure the safety, health and welfare of all employees in their workplace. Special mention is made of employees with disabilities and employers are directed to take their needs into account, particularly with regard to doors, passageways, staircases, showers, washbasins, lavatories and workstations.
Public service quota: The Disability Act 2005 places an obligation on public bodies to consider and respond to the needs of people with disabilities. Under Part 5 of the Act, 3% of jobs in public service bodies (local authorities, civil service, the Health Service Executive and so on) are reserved for people with disabilities.
Looking for work
Whether you are looking for a job for the first time or re-entering the work force after an absence, it is important that you take stock of your skills and the practicalities associated with both your disability and the kind of work for which you are applying. A lot of employers have equal opportunities policies in place and make it clear on job applications that they welcome applications from suitably qualified people with disabilities. However, you should be aware of your rights and the obligations potential employers have towards you under equality legislation. It is up to you to decide whether to disclose your disability to potential employers. This is particularly so if your disability is not obvious (such as a chronic illness like arthritis or a mental illness) but may keep you from performing certain duties. While you may have your reasons for keeping your disability private, your employer cannot accommodate any special needs you may have if they do not know about your condition.
There are a number of support schemes and training opportunities available to people with disabilities who want to enter the work force.
Supports and training
Labour market services for people with disabilities include helping them find paid employment or preparing them for work through training or employment programmes. Employment supports are provided by the Department of Social Protection.
There is training for the unemployed and for people who are re-entering the workforce through specific skills training and traineeships. Training for people in employment is offered through apprenticeships and in-company training. People with disabilities are encouraged to make use of all these training options.
Training courses for people with disabilities who may need more intensive support than would be available in non-specialist training courses are delivered by specialist training providers. Some key features of specialist training include adapted equipment, a more individual approach and longer training sessions.
Job Interview Interpreter Grant Scheme
If you are a jobseeker who is deaf, hard of hearing or has a speech impairment you can apply for funding to have a sign language interpreter or other interpreter attend a job interview with you. Funding can also be provided to cover the costs of an interpreter during an induction period when you start work.
The EmployAbility Service helps people with disabilities find work and offers them ongoing support, including job coaches throughout their employment. The programme operates through a range of organisations around the country.
Disability payments and work
If you are getting certain disability payments, for example, Disability Allowance and Blind Pension, you may be allowed to do some work that is rehabilitative or therapeutic - with permission from the Department of Social Protection - see ‘Employment schemes’ below.
- The Community Employment scheme helps the long-term unemployed and people with disabilities (among others) to get back to work.
- The Community Services Programme aims to address disadvantage by supporting local community activity and providing local employment opportunities for certain groups of people, including people with disabilities.
- The Rural Social Scheme provides income support for farmers and fishermen who are receiving long-term social welfare payments such as disability payments.
- JobBridge, the National Internship Scheme provides work experience opportunities for people getting certain social welfare payments including Disability Allowance.
Other employment support
People with disabilities who want to start their own business may be eligible for the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance which encourages unemployed people, lone parents and people getting Disability Allowance or Blind Person's Pension to take up self-employment.
Further information about employment and disability
Ahead (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability) has information for employees and information for employers, including information on reasonable accommodations in the workplace and their 6-month paid work placement scheme for graduates with disabilities.
The Health and Safety Authority have produced a guide to inclusive health and safety practices for employees with disabilities (pdf).
'Just Ask - a Handbook for Employers and Employees' (pdf) a booklet that describes supports that can be provided for employees with mental health difficulties is available on the website of Eastern Vocational Enterprises (E.V.E.).
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission provides information about equality in work and discrimination issues.
If you think you have been discriminated against because of your disability in work, vocational training or access to employment, you can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission using the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie.