Intellectual disability

Key facts

Key facts on intellectual disability

  • An intellectual disability affects overall functioning with everyday tasks and cognition generally.
  • People with intellectual disability may have difficulties with learning, communication, daily living tasks (eg: managing money, taking care of themself, preparing meals, getting around independently), information processing, social skills and problem solving.
  • The affects of a person's intellectual disability will be within a very wide range from mild to profound. Many people with intellectual disability can manage their own affairs, learn plenty of new things and get through life with only a minimal amount of ongoing support. Others need substantial assistance on a daily basis.
  • Intellectual disabilities are life-long, and a diagnosis requires the disability to have been apparent during childhood (before the age of 18 years).
  • A person can either be born with an intellectual disability or acquire it later in childhood through illness or accident.
  • Around 3% of Australians have an intellectual disability.

Affects and adjustments at work

Common affects of intellectual disability at work

Remember! No two people with the same disability experience the same affects at work!

Employees with disability are not likely to have all the listed disability features OR affects at work! Most people have just a few of those listed; you'll only know by asking the person directly.

Here are some examples of how an employee with an intellectual disability may be affected at work. They may have difficulties with:

  • Learning new tasks and processes.
  • Sorting out arising problems, without help to think through the issue and possible solutions.
  • Understanding others and expressing themselves.
  • Having a concept or firm understanding of time and time management.
  • Travelling to and from work independently.

Possible workplace adjustments for people with intellectual disability

The following examples of workplace adjustments are only examples! These examples will not suit everybody.

In each case the best supports in the workplace can only be discovered through conversations between employer, employee and, if needed, a disability specific employment specialist.

Some examples of workplace adjustments that have been used for people with an intellectual disability include:

  • Work with a specialised disability employment service who will provide on-the-job and, if needed, ongoing workplace support to the employee and the workplace.
  • Employees with an intellectual disability often learn in small steps through repetition. This means that their work activities may need to be structured this way.
  • Develop a 'work buddy' system where a co-worker is identified, based on their personal qualities and experience in the work environment, to provide learning support and guidance.
  • Use pictures and other prompts in the person's work space to help them remember their daily work tasks and processes.
  • Provide disability awareness training to all staff to help them be confident and respectful of employees with disability.

For more information and suggestions on making workplace adjustments for employees with specific types of disability visit the government website Job Access at www.jobaccess.gov.au.

Tips for communicating with people with intellectual disability

  • Speak clearly using uncomplicated language and sentences; avoid jargon.
  • Allow time to explain work requirements and information to the employee.
  • Explain any changes to the job or routines in advance.
  • Allow time for the employee to respond to your requests and also ask questions.
  • A non-response from the employee may mean that they are having difficulty understanding what you have said or are unsure of what they need to do next.
  • Check understanding by asking the person to repeat what you have said in their own words.
  • Rephrase information if it is not understood, or present it differently.
  • Ask short questions to gather information.
  • Use multiple communication strategies to explain concepts, requests or information; for example pictures, physically demonstrate the activity a couple of times; or break down the activity to create small achievable goals.
Australian Government - Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
University of Western Sydney