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Information about disability

Information about disability

The following information is a general overview of the more common types of disability. It is intended only as a starting point for getting to know and understand an individual with disability.

Common Physical Disability:

  • Cerebral Palsy (CP) - difficulty fully controlling body movement and muscle co-ordination. It does not get worse and occurs from damage to specific areas of the brain before, during or shortly after birth, or in infancy.
  • Spina Bifida - failure of the spine of the foetus to close properly resulting in varying degrees of paralysis of the legs, loss of sensation and difficulty with bladder and bowel control.
  • Arthritis - a range of chronic diseases that cause pain, stiffness and loss of movement because of degeneration in joints. The cause is unknown although recent studies show that many people inherit the disorder.

Common Neurological Disability:

  • Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) - an impairment in brain functioning commonly caused by trauma, tumours, brain infections, ingestion of toxic substances or exposure to toxic chemicals. ABI can lead to difficulties with memory, attention, organisation, sensation, movement and interacting with others.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS) - progressive degeneration of the sheath surrounding nerve fibres that causes a loss of smooth, rapid and co-ordinated movements. People with MS have a different set of symptoms that vary from time to time and can change in severity and duration, even in the same person over a day.
  • Epilepsy - a short, sudden electrical disturbance in the brain that alters a person's consciousness, movement or actions. The physical changes are sometimes called seizures. Seizures can range through periods of involuntary movement of the arms and legs or 'fainting spells' followed by excessive fatigue, confused memory or 'blackouts' or periods of staring and unresponsiveness without loss of consciousness.

Common Sensory Disability:

  • Total blindness - a person who has no vision at all.
  • Legal blindness - a person who cannot see at 6 metres what a normal sighted person can see at 60 metres, or whose field of vision is 10 degrees or less (as opposed to the normal 180 degrees). 95% of legally blind people have some useful vision.
  • Macular Degeneration - loss of central vision caused by disease to the retina (layer at the back of the eyeball). Side (peripheral) vision remains.
  • Glaucoma - a rise in pressure in the eye that may lead to narrowing of the field of vision (tunnel vision remains), total blindness, or misting of vision or halo-ing of lights (glare sensitivity).
  • Diabetic Retinopathy - patchy vision of varying degrees of severity resulting from ruptured blood vessels in the retina (layer at the back of the eyeball).
  • Cataracts - clouding of the focusing lens of the eye that results in clouding of vision (milky), blurriness and eventual blindness.
  • Hearing impairment - very few people are totally deaf. While some people benefit from using hearing aids (amplification), the sound quality is still affected and for many the sound is still unintelligible. At best only 25% of spoken English words are clearly identifiable with speech (lip) reading, even when combined with residual hearing.

Common Developmental Disability:

  • Intellectual Disability (ID) - intellectual functioning (as measured by an IQ test) that falls within the bottom 5% of the population and occurs before the age of 18 coupled with functional limitations in two or more of the daily living skills (e.g. self-care, communication, mobility) needed to independently live, work or recreate in the community.
  • Down Syndrome - an extra chromosome that leads to a recognisable physical appearance and varying degrees of intellectual disability. Usually, but not always, co-ordination and language skills develop more slowly.
  • Learning Difficulties (LD) - a difficulty in understanding or using language, whether spoken or written, where there is no other type of disability. It may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations. Dyslexia (a profound and persistent difficulty learning to read despite intelligence, motivation and education) is the most common form of learning disability.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (AD/HD) - characterised by forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, poor attention span and impulsiveness. Both disorders may lead to disorganisation, difficulty following rapid conversations, low self-esteem and a reduced ability to keep track of one's own belongings and of time. Some of the behavioural characteristics that distinguish between the two related disorders are as follows. People with ADD can be very sensitive to criticism, tend to not have close friends, be overly polite and be under-assertive. People with ADHD can be hyperactive, can make friends more easily, be intrusive, rebellious, bossy, irritating and be inclined to show off.
  • Autism - difficulty with understanding what is seen, heard and otherwise sensed that results in problems with learning normal speech and communication, and appropriate ways to relate to people, objects and events. As is the case with most developmental disability, there are usually uneven patterns of intellectual functioning. People with Autism may have below average, average or above-average intelligence.

Common Psychiatric Disability:

  • Schizophrenia - a complex group of mental illnesses that have in common a loss of touch with reality (at least for some time) to a serious degree. Symptoms may include: delusional thoughts, hallucinations, confused thinking or speech, inappropriate moods, flattened emotions, bizarre behaviour and/or social withdrawal. Schizophrenia does not mean multiple personalities.
  • Depression - feeling down, numb or empty or a sadness that is out of proportion to any external causes, which leads to a noticeable loss in the ability to feel pleasure about anything. It is a condition in which a person experiences a marked change in their mood and in the way they view themselves and the world.
  • Bipolar Disorder (manic depression) - a condition involving swings from being overly 'high' and agitated, to sad and hopeless, and then back again, with normal mood in between. It tends to run in families and often goes unrecognised.
  • Anxiety Disorders - illnesses that cause people for no apparent reason to feel anxiety (feelings that may include being frightened, distressed, agitated and uneasy). Includes illnesses characterised by repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often without warning (panic disorder), repeated unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviours that seem impossible to stop or control (obsessive-compulsive disorder), an extreme disabling and irrational fear of something that poses little or no danger and that leads to avoidance of objects or situations (phobias).

Facts about students and employees with disability

Facts about students and employees with disability

  • People with disability have proven themselves to be competent students and workers in a wide range of qualifications and occupations regardless of the type or severity of their disability.
  • Having disability does not mean more time off, nor does it make people less reliable. Research shows that attendance and turnover records of workers with disability are better than those of the general workforce.
  • People with disability are generally very careful about their safety and well being and are not prone to accidents. Research shows that workers with disability are less likely to have an accident at work or to cause an injury to a fellow worker.
  • Workers compensation premiums are not based on whether there are people with disability in the workforce - rather they are based on the nature of the work being done and the claims history of the company.
  • People with disability are equally productive. Being aware of employer's concerns often means that they are keen to prove themselves to be productive and valuable employees. The difficult part is getting a job in the first place.
  • The best way to help people with disability obtain meaningful careers is to focus on their abilities and life goals rather than on identifying and correcting their deficits.
  • Whilst people gain their jobs because of their skills and abilities, they more commonly lose their jobs because of an inability to fit into the workplace. The same applies to people with disability and it is important that they receive good training and support in both.
  • Very few people with disability need assistive equipment, adaptations to existing equipment or workplace modifications to complete their studies or work safely and independently. Where individual accommodations are needed they usually involve minimal or no cost to any party.
  • People with disability do not outgrow them. However they do learn coping mechanisms to lessen their impact or even mask them.

Workforce Development and Training Institutes (formerly TAFE) Disability Services Officers

Workforce Development and Training Institutes (formerly TAFE) Disability Services Officers

Disability Services Officers are available to co-ordinate the support and assistance that will help students with disability to participate more effectively and achieve better vocational and employment outcomes.

Services offered to students with disability (who have been assessed as qualifying for assistance) by TAFE Disability Services Officers can include:

  • Representing students' individual needs, circumstances and aspirations to the teaching and administrative staff.
  • Approaching lecturers about alternative arrangements for examinations or alternative forms of assessment.
  • Arranging access to certain lecture theatres, tutorial rooms, workshops and other facilities.
  • Identifying the availability of assistive equipment such as communication aids, audio loops, wheelchair adjustable desks, customised keyboards, and ergonomic furniture.
  • Directing students with disability to computing facilities at each college.
  • Liaising with library staff for services such as photocopying, retrieving items from inaccessible shelves and interpreting small print on screen displays.
  • Organising sign language interpreters, note takers or scribes.
  • Arranging alternative formats, large screen magnification software or tape recorders.
  • Advising on course selection, enrolment procedures, and general information concerning Institutes TAFE.
  • Identifying student learning services to develop reading, report writing and computing skills.
  • Organising tutorial support.

Assistance for job seekers and employees with disability

Assistance for job seekers and employees with disability

Job seekers and employees with disability are able to register with a specialist disability employment service if they are assessed by a Job Capacity Assessor (where applicable) as being eligible for specialist assistance.

If they do not satisfy the eligibility criteria a Job Capacity Assessor will determine their eligibility for assistance from a Job Services Australia employment stream and provide them with a referral to appropriate providers.

The new streams are:

  • Program A: Disability Management Services. (formerly VRS)
  • Program B: Disability Employment Services (DES) formerly DEN
  • Mainstream Employment assistance.(formerly Job Network)

Disability Employment Services can assist people with disability to find employment in a wide range of occupations. Services that they can provide to job seekers and employees with disability include:

  • Assisting job seekers with disability to determine which jobs best match their skills, capacities and interests.
  • Arranging work trials and work experience in the final year of their studies.
  • Securing an appropriate position with an appropriate employer.
  • Coordinating wage, equipment and training subsidies for the employer.
  • Identifying safe and appropriate assistive equipment, adaptations to existing equipment and modifications at work;
  • Provide the employee with individualised on-the-job training and support at work.
  • Locating and training work-based mentors to assist their co-workers with disability to learn their jobs and be welcomed into the workplace.

Traineeships and apprenticeships for people with disability

Traineeships and apprenticeships for people with disability

Current research is still finding:

  • There is a significant under-representation of students with disability in the VET sector.
  • Students with disability who do participate in vocational education and training are not experiencing the same training outcomes or recording the same progress or satisfaction as other students.
  • VET students with disability are less likely to be enrolled in higher-level courses (Certificate III and above) than other students.
  • VET students with disability are twice as likely to be enrolled in multi-field programs (pre-employment, pre-vocational, language and literacy) than other students.
  • Participation of people with disability in apprenticeships and traineeships is significantly lower than that of other students.
  • The module pass rate of people with disability is lower than that of other students.

Apprenticeships and traineeships can provide an ideal learning environment and career development opportunity for many people with disability. Among the growing number of traineeships that are offered, some that are popular amongst people with disability include: automotive, business administration, building and construction, community services, food, hospitality, information technology, land care, light manufacturing, process manufacturing, office skills, retail, small business, transport, and warehousing.

Some apprenticeships that people with disability are currently successfully completing include: auto mechanic, auto panel and paint, boilermaker, bread maker, cabinet maker, chef, electrician, hairdresser, mould and core maker, optical mechanic, plasterer, plumber and horticulturalist.

Many people with disability undertaking traineeships and apprenticeships are benefiting from the supports available through disability employment agencies and/or Group Training Organisations. The disability employment agency and the Group Training Organisation work together to support the trainee or apprentice, and the host employer, by:

  • Establishing that the apprentice/trainee has the commitment and basic skills to complete the course.
  • Determining which traineeship/apprenticeship best meets the skills and interests of the apprentice/trainee.
  • Locating a suitable host employer.
  • Locating a suitable registered training organisation.
  • Negotiating the Training Program Outline (TPO) and clarifying the duty statement.
  • Exploring flexible training delivery and assessment options.
  • Providing the apprentice/trainee with individualised on and off-the-job training support.
  • Checking training progress and liaising with the Registered Training Organisation.
  • Identifying note takers, interpreters, assistive equipment and individualised tutorial assistance for the off-the-job training for the apprentice/trainee.
  • Coordinating assistive equipment, adaptations to existing equipment and modifications in the workplace.
  • Securing funding through programs such as the Disabled Australian Apprenticeship Wage Subsidy (DAAWS) to help cover wages, equipment, and possibly a mentor.

There are more than 30 disability employment services operating in Western Australia. They are located all around Perth and in regional centre’s such as Broome, Port Hedland, Karratha, Newman, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Albany, Bridgetown, Narrogin, Northam, Busselton, Bunbury, Collie and Mandurah.

There are similar numbers of Group Training Organisations operating in Western Australia. They are also located all around Perth and in regional centres such as Kununurra, Karratha, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Albany, Bunbury, Northam, Mandurah and Christmas Island.

Success stories

Success stories

Dale Schwinkowski
Apprentice Chef

Dale Schwinkowski has an eagle-eyed teacher, EDGE and his own strong work ethic to thank for landing his dream job.

The seventeen year old is an Apprentice Chef at Crown, Perth. He earned the position after successfully completing months of both paid work and work experience.

"This is it," says Dale. "This is what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life!"

Dale's first job at Crown was working as a Kitchen Hand, but an Apprenticeship was always his goal.

Tracey Ashman, Apprentice Chef Coordinator at Crown said that Dale was determined to undertake an apprenticeship from the very beginning of his career journey.

"Every single day he came to work, every time he saw me in the corridor, he came up to me and asked me if he could have that opportunity," says Tracey Ashman. "That's what he really wanted to do, he wanted an apprenticeship."

"He wore me down completely!" she laughs. Ms Ashman struck a deal with Dale.

"I said to him, let's have a look at your skills and what you're actually made of. I asked him if he was prepared to come in one day a week for twelve weeks of work experience in a kitchen and be assessed each day, which he did."

"He basically proved to me that he was willing to do the job and capable of doing the job."

Indeed, neither a learning disability, dyslexia nor ADHD have prevented Dale from pursuing the position he's coveted since he first started cooking classes at school.

"About four weeks into Home Economics I fell in love," Dale tells INSIDE EDGE," and that was it, I decided I wanted to be a Chef."

It was an ambition first nurtured by teacher Ying Jie Choo, Education Support Coordinator at Ellenbrook Secondary College. She arranged work experience for Dale at a local café, one day a week.

"Then I got him in with EDGE," says Miss Choo.

"EDGE and his work placement was probably the best thing, it started him off, driving that passion."

Supported by EDGE, Dale completed a fifteen week SWOT (School to Work Transition) placement, then a Certificate 3 in Hospitality, followed by another six months in the Kitchen Hand job at Crown Perth.

"I proved myself by doing that," says Dale. Crown Perth's Tracey Ashman agrees.

"Everything I've asked him to do, he's taken on board. He's "teachable," she says. "Like a football coach saying to a football player, you're coachable."

"Can I coach that kid? Can I help him? Can I teach him to get the best out of him? Yeah I think we can.

"His attitude far outweighs any disability he might have. He comes in each day, he's on top of the world, he loves his job. He thinks it's absolutely fantastic he's got this opportunity. He loves going to TAFE, he's fantastic with the other staff, he's helpful with the work experience students - he's actually quite a good mentor."

Dale's grandmother Keeva Triscari says the focused and determined seventeen year old is very different to the "sometimes really naughty" child who'd regularly disrupt lessons at school.

"He always wanted to be a chef, he wanted to be a cook. He just got all this help," she tells INSIDE EDGE.

"We always say to him, gee Dale, I'm so proud of you!"

Mitchell McKenna
Horticulture Trainee

Mitchell McKenna didn't need anyone's help to answer an advertisement for a job as a Horticulture Trainee at the Shire of Kalamunda. After spotting the vacancy online, he made his application.

Mitchell listed EDGE Job Coordinator, Jenny Fuller, who had supported him previously, as a referee. Coincidentally, when the Shire checked Mitchell's references, Jenny Fuller knew the Team Leader and could honestly recommend Mitchell for the position. He got the job.

"All credit to him," Jenny says. "He really wanted to work and he really wanted a traineeship."

Mitchell's enthusiasm for horticulture was ignited when he was still at school. Like Dale Schwinkoski - also featured in this edition of INSIDE EDGE - Mitchell was taught by Ying Jie Choo, Education Support Coordinator at Ellenbrook Secondary College. She encouraged him to pursue a Certificate 2 in Horticulture at Leederville TAFE, when he was still in Year Twelve.

The reason Mitchell enjoyed the work so much is simple.

"I just love horticulture because I like to work outside," he told INSIDE EDGE.

"I don't like to work inside. Inside gets boring! "As a Trainee at the Shire of Kalamunda, Mitchell now spends every day outside. Duties include mowing lawns, trimming hedges, planting trees and maintaining the parks.

Mitchell's also discovered a new talent - for fixing reticulation.

"Love my retic. It's the best!" he says. "In summer, you don't get all hot and sweaty cos you've got water going everywhere, keeps you nice and cool."

EDGE gives Mitchell practical help with his new role - from arranging a grant to buy him prescription safety glasses, to organising a tutor to help him as he studies for a Certificate Two in Horticulture at Polytechnic West.

"I struggle with school work, so that'll help me a lot," says Mitchell.

"The combination of school and EDGE have set him up for life," says Megan McKenna, Mitchell's mum.

"It's fantastic. It's a weight off my mind knowing that if there are any problems at work that he doesn't want to talk to mum about . . . it's a relief knowing he's got that support."

Megan also credits the Shire of Kalamunda.

"His workplace is really good. They made him feel welcome from day dot. They've really taken him under their wing. It's been such a great opportunity for him and he loves it."

Michael Alison, Team Leader of the Horticulture Section at the Shire of Kalamunda says he hopes Mitchell will become a permanent member of staff when the twelve month traineeship is completed.

"I'll certainly go into bat for him," says Mr Alison. "I would give my hundred per cent support!"

Mark Kosowitz
IT Trainee

Therapy Focus not only works to provide therapy and support to WA children with disability, when it comes to recruiting staff the company also actively seeks to integrate people with disability.

"Inclusion isn't tolerance, inclusion is absolute inclusion into society, that's the way I look at it, anyway," says Iain Humphreys, Therapy Focus' Information Technology Coordinator.

"The fact of the matter is, we don't employ people because of the disability, we employ people because we look through the disability to the person."

For 25 year old Mark Kosowitz, that forward thinking led to his appointment as a full-time, IT Trainee. Therapy Focus could clearly see Mark's talents in computing.

Mark's duties include setting up laptops, establishing "hot desks" (where staff share one work-station), formatting computers, data entry and research. It's a natural fit for someone who's been using computers all his life. Mark says he really enjoys work now, but it's the company that makes it special.

"They have the kind of culture where everyone gets along," he says simply.

"It makes me feel really good and my parents are happy with me, they've stopped nagging me to get a job!"

But, according to EDGE Job Coordinator Luke Griffin, it was a technology failure on Mark's first day that helped to break the ice with his new colleagues.

"The building actually had a power cut for two hours and during that time, staff moved into the kitchen and just got talking. At some point someone started talking about a topic Mark was interested in and he was able to start building up a rapport from an early stage," he says.

Luke's seen a real improvement in Mark's self confidence and credits Therapy Focus.

"Mark's really making great progress and as you understand, he's got such a supportive workplace. They're absolutely brilliant! They'd contact me if they need any further assistance, but they really are making it work themselves."

Iain Humphreys is quick to point out that Mark has been a valuable addition to the Therapy Focus team.

"Mark hasn't brought anything to the department that's advanced it because of his disability, what's advanced it is his work ethic," he says.

"If I brought in an 18 year old off the street who, for all intents and purposes, does not have disability, it would be a lot harder to manage than someone who has disability like Mark."

"With Mark, and with the support we get from EDGE, we can manage extremely easily. It's just a matter of training us - as his supervisors and co-workers - to take Mark's disability into account when we need to, and to know when not to take it into account, if that makes sense."

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

Symon Still
Injury Prevention Manager

Nineteen years ago, one careless moment changed Symon Still from a keen triathlete to a partial quadriplegic.

Now, practical support from EDGE is helping him achieve his goal to stay in the workforce as long as he can, while he tries to stop others from suffering spinal cord injuries. In 1994, the then 24 year old Physical Education teacher was riding his bike to work, when he collided with a car.

"I was inattentive, so was he, but he was in a four wheel drive," says Symon - the result was devastating.

"I sustained high level spinal cord injury, I'm classified as a partial quadriplegic, so I can use my arms but they're sort of numb."

His ability to walk was gone, but Symon's will to work is still the same. He adapted, going on to teach mathematics and later moving to the Paraplegic Benefit Fund as its Injury Prevention Manager. Symon is now able to combine his professional and life experience.

"My role here is to find, recruit, train and mentor new presenters to share their story to audiences," he tells INSIDE EDGE.

Symon's team members have all suffered spinal cord injuries.

They tell their stories to children, teenagers, employers and workers in sectors as varied as mining, marine and construction.

May Bowden, General Manager of the Paraplegic Benefit Fund, says the education programmes that Symon oversees are having a positive effect.

"Many individuals who have been to our presentations have commented that PBF's Injury Prevention presentation has made them re-think their own safety behaviours and the impact it could have on family and friends."

Symon tells INSIDE EDGE, "We're there to make people think about their own decisions. A lot of people come up afterwards and say I've made some unwise choices in my life up until now, but as of today I'm changing."

While he loves his job, spreading that message can be physically exhausting for Symon. "It's the in and out of the car and pushing, that'll wear out my shoulders. I don't want to lose the ability to transfer (from the car to a wheelchair), cause if I lose my ability to transfer, I lose my independence."

"There are many people who work for PBF who have enormous passion." says May Bowden, "Their bodies let them down."

"I think with EDGE's help we can find opportunities - not only in terms of finding employment, but also making it easier for individuals to concentrate on being passionate and loyal employees."

As Symon's role at PBF has evolved, so have the physical demands of his job. EDGE Occupational Therapist Sarah DiTommaso identified that the continual lifting of a heavy wheelchair was putting Symon's body under unnecessary strain so, eight years ago, she successfully applied to Job Access for funds to purchase a lighter chair.

A year later, a managerial promotion meant more desk work for Symon and the need for adjustment in the backrest support of his chair. An increase in computer work meant voice-activated software was necessary to prevent repetitive strain on Symon's arms. Through EDGE, Job Access funded a new backrest and the software to enable Symon to write on a computer by speaking rather than typing. These seemingly small changes have made a huge difference to Symon, but he would never have been able to afford them on his own. EDGE managed to source it all - it didn't cost Symon or his employer a cent.

At 44 "wear and tear" is taking its toll on Symon's body. So EDGE recently helped source an electric wheelchair and the necessary vehicle modifications to transport it.

This means that the father of two can continue to participate in the workforce, helping to provide the education to stop spinal injuries like his. He hopes his story will help. "Others will see this and think right, equipment can make all the difference!"

"With an open mind, looking at people for their individual needs, people can work and therefore enjoy their life!" he says.

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