Guidelines for the Employer
Where to go first
The Australian Government has an excellent program called JobAccess (www.jobaccess.gov.au
). This site gives information specific to the Australian work environment. It is recommended that employers with employees with macular degeneration view this site.
What is Macular Degeneration (MD)?
Macular degeneration is a loss of function in the central retina due to unknown environmental or genetic factors. Some people develop macular degeneration when young (eg. Stargardt's disease or high myopia). Most people develop it later in life (age-related macular degeneration). Macular degeneration comes in two main types; 'dry' and 'wet'. The more common dry degenerative form produces a gradual loss of central vision over many years. However, with the more severe 'wet' form vision may suddenly decrease. Macular degeneration cannot be cured, though current therapies and treatments can often slow its progression.
People with macular degeneration can have a range of sight from near normal levels of vision to low vision to legal blindness. However, it is important to note that people with macular degeneration have good peripheral vision and can often function very well using their side vision. A person is termed legally blind when they cannot see the big letters on the top of a vision testing chart. A person is said to have low vision when they fail the eye test for a driving license. It is estimated that around 40,000 Australians who are workforce aged are legally blind. More than 200,000 Australians who are workforce aged have low vision.
People with low vision and legal blindness can often function efficiently in the workplace using environmental modifications, low vision aids or adaptive technology.
Information on early detection, timely treatment, comprehensive rehabilitation and support services, as well as new prevention suggestions have been provided on this website to help you.
Employment of a person with macular degeneration
a. Benefits of employing a person with macular degeneration
The most important priority in hiring people is to match the needs of the position to the experiences and skills of the person.
People with disabilities make excellent employees. The Federal Government JobAccess
website reports that people with disabilities rate higher on reliability (attendance and sick leave) and employee maintenance factors (recruitment, safety, insurance costs) than an 'average' employee.
Over 90% of employers who had recently employed a person with a disability said they would be happy to continue employing people with a disability. 78% of employers described the match between their employee with a disability and the job as 'good'.
In relation to the cost benefit of workplace accommodations for employees with a disability, 65% of employers rated the financial effect to be cost neutral and 20% identified an overall financial benefit. 90% of employees with a disability record productivity rates equal to or greater than other workers.
b. Attracting people with macular degeneration to interview
The following tips demonstrate a pro-active attitude towards attracting people with visual disability:
- Contact your Job Network and the Centrelink Disability Liaison Officer service and inform them of your vacant positions and interest in employing people with macular degeneration.
- Place visual aids in the reception and offices where case management occurs.
- Invite local vision disability organisations and macular degeneration client services groups to attend a staff meeting outlining your industry and the positions you have available for people with macular degeneration.
- Ensure your company website is user-friendly and accessible to people who use adaptive technology such as screen readers or screen magnification software.
- Ensure the signage inside and outside of your buildings is located at eye level and is formatted in large print and with high contrast colours to make the information easier to read for people who are vision impaired.
c. Interviewing a person with macular degeneration
You may not be aware that a person interviewing for a position has mild macular degeneration. They are not required by law to inform you of their diagnosis. Their job performance may not be influenced by their eye disease. Their ocular health may remain a private and confidential matter. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes it unlawful for you to discriminate against any person with a visual disability.
If a person voluntarily divulges that they have a visual disability then the interviewer may modify the way they conduct the interview. The interviewer may:
d. Obtaining help
- Offer assistance to the applicant by explaining the seating arrangements, any obstacles and offer an arm to guide them. The offer is important although it might be politely refused.
- Address the person by name and title to alert them of your attention and say who you are. Speak quietly and directly as people with a vision disability may have sensitive hearing.
- Talk with the applicant about any adaptive technology, low vision aids or other environmental requirements they will need to do the job.
- Relax. Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions that on reflection may have seemed inappropriate given the person's disability.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do.
Help is available for employers who would like assistance in placing people with macular degeneration. Disability Recruitment Coordinator (DRC) services are funded to assist employers in placing people with disabilities into employment. There is a DRC service in most capital cities.
For more information on DRC services call the Department of Family and Community Services on 1300 653 227.
e. What are my legal obligations?
(a) Disability Discrimination Act 1992
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 is a federal law which can be used to address discrimination in many areas of public life. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes it unlawful to treat a person unfairly because of their disability. For more information consult the website of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Click here
The Disability Discrimination Act can be used to:
- Access work, equal pay, training and promotion.
- Obtain protection from dismissal.
- Request 'reasonable adjustment' from your employer for workplace modifications.
- Eliminate harassment.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 states that in some circumstances it is not unlawful for a person to discriminate against a person with a disability. For example, where a person cannot perform the inherent requirements of a job it is not unlawful for an employer to not employ the person or to dismiss the person. However, the employer has to have considered whether the person could perform the requirements of the job with 'reasonable adjustment' in the workplace. However there is also protection for the employer. It may not be unlawful to refuse the requested reasonable adjustment if it imposes an 'unjustifiable hardship' on the business. For example it might be considered an unjustifiable hardship if the employer was a small business and it had to modify the entire cash register system to use enlarge fonts.
A more complete discussion of reasonable adjustments can be found at JobAccess. Click here
(b) Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1990
When considering Occupational Health and Safety and Disability Discrimination law, employers need to review the specifics of the situation on a case-by-case basis. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 does NOT cover all of an employer's obligations in relation to an employee with a disability. In some cases an employer may have more extensive obligations under other laws, including State and territory laws regarding discrimination, rehabilitation or compensation of employees following an injury or illness, protection of health and safety and unfair dismissal.
A more complete discussion of these issues can be found at JobAccess. Click here
f. Will a person with macular degeneration increase my training costs?
All new employees require training. Sometimes, depending on the tasks they have been allocated, a person with a macular degeneration may need some extra assistance with initial training and on-the-job support. A range of specialists can cover any extra training and supervision needs of the worker so that employers are not disadvantaged.
g. Can a person with macular degeneration do the job?
People with macular degeneration work successfully in many areas of the workforce. Many are tertiary qualified and hold senior managerial positions.
On-the-job training can be provided by workplace assessment specialists to enable people with macular degeneration to break complex jobs into easy-to-learn steps.
h. Will a person with macular degeneration need expensive workplace modifications?
The vast majority of people with mild macular degeneration will require no significant workplace modifications.
Where adjustments are required they will usually be simple and inexpensive. Employers can use the Workplace Modification Scheme to fund workplace changes including the lease, purchase or hire of equipment needed to help them in their work up to $5,000. The 2005-2006 Federal Budget provided an additional $25 million over 4 years to boost this program. Reimbursement may be made to the employer, the employee, the employee's advocate or a disability employment service. To be eligible for support your prospective employee must be receiving assistance from a disability employment service or from a Job Network Intensive Assistance member. Also, the job you are offering must be for at least eight hours a week and be expected to last for at least six months.
A worksite assessment may be necessary to determine the necessary modifications or equipment needed to help the employee to do their job. The cost of approved worksite assessments will be covered by the Department of Family and Community Services and are carried out by qualified practitioners from Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service Australia or the State or Territory Blind Society.
You can obtain information on the Workplace Modifications Scheme and worksite assessments by calling the Workplace Modifications Unit on 1800 814 838 or the Department of Family and Community Services on 1300 653 227.
i. How do you I treat a person with macular degeneration in the workplace?
Treat them as you would any other employee. Include them in all workplace events and social events. Allow the person with the disability to decide which activities are not suitable.
j. How do I monitor the progress of the new employee with macular degeneration?
A Job Network case manager will maintain contact with you and the job seeker to ensure that both you and the employee are happy. However, as with any employee, there will be occasions when things don't work out. In these situations, your normal procedures for dealing with performance problems would apply.
k. What Government financial assistance is available when employing person with macular degeneration?
A complete listing can be found on the Department of Family and Community Services website. Click here
. The main initiatives are:
(a) Disability Employment Assistance Program
The Disability Employment Assistance Program is currently provided by 436 non-government organisations through 861 service outlets and the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service Australia.
Service providers offer employment assistance to people with disabilities that are likely to be permanent and result in the need for ongoing support. These services are provided through two categories:
- Open employment services that assist people with disabilities to gain and retain paid employment in the work force in the open labour market.
- Supported employment services that support the paid employment of people with disabilities for whom competitive employment at or above the relevant award wage is unlikely and who, because of their disabilities, need substantial ongoing support to obtain or retain paid employment.
More information about the functions of disability employment services may be obtained from the offices of the Department of Family and Community Services in your State or Territory by calling 1300 653 227.
(b) Wage Subsidy Scheme
This scheme assists employers who provide job opportunities for people with disabilities by providing a wage subsidy for the equivalent of 13 weeks pay for the person with a disability. Payments can be spread over a six-month period. The employer negotiates the terms of the wage subsidy with the disability employment service. The amount of subsidy that is paid will vary with the circumstances of the job and the employee. The 2005-2006 Budget provided for an increase of $5 million over four years for the Wage Subsidy Scheme.
The job you are offering is expected to continue after the end of the subsidy period and you must employ the person for at least eight hours a week. In addition, the subsidy rate may not exceed the weekly award wage paid to the employee. To find out more about the Wage Subsidy Scheme contact a disability employment service in your area or call the Department of Family and Community Services on 1300 653 227.