Making legal profession more accessible for people with disability

Employing people with a disability an opportunity not a burden.

A panel of eminent individuals with a disability have outlined practical ways that the legal profession can make workplaces more accessible and inclusive for people with a disability.

Organised by the Law Society of NSW, in support of International Day of People with Disability, the panel discussion featured:

  • The Hon. Gareth Ward MP, Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services
  • Rosemary Kayess, Interim Director, Disability Innovation Institute, UNSW
  • Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum AO, Special Advisor, The Royal Commission into Violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.

The panel discussion was expertly facilitated by Nic Parsons, Solicitor, Nicholas George Lawyers and Committee Member, of the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

In opening the discussion, Chair of the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Juliana Warner, spoke of the Society’s commitment to ensuring that the legal profession is inclusive and welcoming to all Australians, including people with disability.

“By asking the panellists to share their experiences of living with a disability we want to create a platform to explore how we can improve accessibility and inclusion for people with a disability in the legal profession – for both clients requiring access to legal services and those currently working within the legal field,” Ms Warner said.

In response, NSW Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, The Hon. Gareth Ward MP, urged private enterprise to employ people with a disability.

“Confounding expectations is really important to me and being the first NSW Minister for Disabilities to actually have a disability is an opportunity for me to demonstrate what people, who some will try to frame as having an impairment, can actually achieve,” he said.

“There’s a misconception in a lot of workplaces that people with disability are somehow not up to standard or not able to make the same contribution as others and I just think that’s totally wrong.

“People should see the employment of people with disabilities as a real opportunity to reach out to people who can make a great contribution to the legal profession.

“There are a lot of challenges across all professions – it’s about attitudes, it’s about inclusive workplaces, that applies to governments as much as anybody.”

Mr Ward said the NSW Government has set a target of increasing the number of people with disability employed across the NSW public sector from an estimated 2.7 per cent to 5.6 per cent by 2025.

“One of the biggest challenges has been getting people inside the public service to put up their hand to say they have a disability because they are worried about reprisal, bullying - I think that this is even an issue in 2019 is an absolute disgrace,” he said.

“We need to say to managers and to employers that employing people with disabilities is not a burden - it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate that you are an inclusive employer and an inclusive workplace.”

The Minister outlined measures that members of the legal profession can take back to their firms and implement straight away to employ more people with a disability in the legal workplace.

  • Looking at the existing Disability Inclusion Action Plans available on NSW Government websites
  • Setting targets for employment of people with a disability in the workplace
  • Ensuring that the needs of people with a disability currently working in the legal workplace are being met to the highest possible standards

In a similar vein, Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum AO, the first totally blind person to be appointed to a full professorship at any Australian or New Zealand university, spoke of the need to make the justice system more accessible for people with a disability.

A 2018 Law Council of Australia Justice Report found that people with disability face a wide range of systemic and structural barriers to accessing justice.

“We have to reach to our clients who are persons with disabilities, and we have to reach out to the courts and tribunals, and we have to make things as appropriate and as fair as possible.”

“I sat on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for many years and I found it was very important for those people challenging a decision to know that there was a person with a disability hearing the matter,” Professor McCallum said.

However, Human Rights Lawyer and Interim Director, Disability Innovation Institute, UNSW Rosemary Kayess, said it’s difficult to build an inclusive legal profession when the bulk of members of that profession are not aware of disability.”

“I think law schools need to start putting a more realistic framework on their subject matter… people with disability are over-represented in the justice system, especially criminal law, yet disability gets mentioned very rarely through law subjects,” she said.

NB: Audio of the event is available upon request.

Sue Finn | Media and Public Relations Manager
The Law Society of New South Wales
T: +61 2 9926 0288 | M: +61 413 440 699 | E: