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Anonymous Teacher Files – Teachers with Disabilities

Anonymous Teacher Files – Teachers with Disabilities

This is the first of our Anonymous Teacher Files, where teachers have asked for me to be their voice on a sensitive topic.

In this episode, a teacher has reached out to discuss discrimination related to a hearing impairment. I delved into the statistics of teachers with disabilities, and offer advice for how to deal with discrimination that may be occurring in your workplace as a teacher.


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Show Notes

You can see my full research, including handy graphs and graphics, here.



Step into the staff room my friend, today, we are talking about teachers with disabilities. So today I have something a little different for you.

This is the first of our anonymous teacher files. This is a series where teachers can voice issues, that they are not comfortable putting their face or their voice to, but they feel it’s a topic that’s important for us to open the staff room door to. Note that these topics and stories are sent to me anonymously and they represent the personal views of the sender. They are not meant to be heard as a representative of any particular system, organization, or employer. I have removed identifying aspects to protect the privacy of all involved. Now, some of these anonymous teacher files are going to be of topics that are a little bit controversial. If the topic is going to be one that is quite sensitive, I will, of course give you a trigger warning at the beginning of the episode.

So today we have our very first anonymous teacher files story. This was sent to me after my International Women’s Day article was release. A reader had read that article and some aspects of it resonated with them quite strongly. So they reached out to me, asking for me to be their voice and to amplify this issue, which is quite personal for them.

We, as a profession have had a recent push towards inclusion, particularly inclusion of students with disabilities.

The overall question that this teacher wanted to ask is why are us teachers getting left behind in this inclusivity push. Here is their story. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and thought about whether I should mention it.

So here I am. Emily. I am angry, frustrated, and deflated by many things at present. Some in my control. Some not, but one I have come across for the first time is what I suppose you would call discrimination. I am hearing impaired quite significantly more than most realize.

However I am okay with this and have lived with it for a long time. It’s my normal. Saying this doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with its challenges and an ever evolving capacity to adapt. But again, I’m okay with this. Until recently my school have taken on this new initiative of co-teaching. Something I think a lot of us do anyway, and I’m not opposed to it.

There are a number of ways to apply. However it has been made explicitly clear to me by my head of department that as a co-teaching class, we are to be together as one big class in one big room. And this is where it falls down. I hear by seeing, I hear by getting to know my students and their sound, I manage the safety of my room by knowing that I can see to hear well.

I used to be able. I’ve had quite a direct conversation with my HOD over this, but excuse the pun seems to go on deaf ears and was met with ignorance to the point. At one stage, I was offered a microphone to teach with. Anyway, the conversation didn’t go anywhere and eventually they came back the next day and said to speak to HR.

They themselves did nothing to advocate for me, just stated that we have to co-teach. If we want to work at this school. I can do and have been doing my job for a while and manage to overcome all the barriers that have presented.

But I just can’t overcome a very large room. I can’t overcome corners I can’t see around. I can’t overcome not being given the option to get to know my class personally, to know their sound. As I’m now in a class of over 40 students. I can’t overcome masks and not seeing. Even though our government stated you were to remove it for a person who is hard of hearing and you should get a shield if this bothers you. My head of department does not remove their mask and does not wear a shield. In the large classrooms I have to use, I can’t hear from one end to the next and I can’t see fully to hear.

I teach well, I’m good at my job, but not like this. I currently just stand in these classes, like a teacher aid, trying to catch some of what’s being said and writing it on the whiteboard if I hear it. It’s embarrassing.

So what do I do? Here’s the problem.. I do not feel safe saying something and bringing it to a voice. It’s meant to be an inclusive environment for all that includes staff with disabilities and is part of the government’s directive for an inclusive workplace for. But I don’t feel safe. If I was in a wheelchair and you had me in a class, up a flight of stairs and we had no lift, would you move the room or would you tell me to leave my chair at the bottom and get myself up the stairs? It’s like, you can’t see my disability, so it isn’t there. Shall I wear a badge? I’m not sharing this for answers. I’m sharing this to see if you could help be my voice. And you are right in your International Women’s Day article. I just want to be okay.

I have to tell you, my heart broke reading this message. How is it that we are in 2022 and teachers are in this position?

So I got curious. How many teachers in Australia have a disability? How are those disabilities being accommodated for within our profession? I decided to take a dive into the statistics. To begin with. It was really, really difficult to find statistics that were looking specifically at teachers. So I’m going to start with the Australian population in general. Overall about 18% of the Australian population have a disability. This translates to 4.4 million.

The breakdown is about 17.6% of males and 17.8% of females within Australia identify as having a disability.

One thing to note is that the proportion of people in Australia with a disability is actually increasing, and this is seen, especially as the population ages. We’re also improving our diagnostic technology and processes, and the taboos and stigmas around disabilities are falling, which means that a lot more people are comfortable accessing a diagnosis and informing others of their disabilities.

For about 77% of people with a disability, their main form of disability is physical. The other 23%, the main form of their disability is mental or behavioral.

In terms of workforce participation, about 53% of people with a disability are active in the workforce, but this of course varies by age.

Now, according to the OECD the average age of teachers in Australia is 42 with 30% of teachers above that age. So it stands to reason that a small proportion of teachers are going to be teaching with their disability.

Now, after about three weeks of digging, emailing various departments, various advocacy groups, I came across purely by chance, just so you know, I came across the Australian Teacher Workforce Data who produced the National Teacher Workforce Characteristics Report.

Now the reason why I wanna make it clear that this took a lot of digging is because I think it’s very interesting that this topic, teachers with disabilities, is one that you can’t just Google. It seems to be not necessarily hidden a way, but it’s not easily publicly accessible. So this report, the National Teacher Workforce Characteristics Report was published in December 2021. And this is the absolute closest thing I could get looking at the statistics of teachers with disabilities. This report stems from a survey of 17,729 teachers.

So, of course the statistics are going to be a bit skewed. In 2021, there were 303,539 full-time equivalent teaching staff in Australian schools. So if we step back to that survey, they only surveyed just under 18,000 of those 303,000 teachers.

According to the report, the proportion of teachers who self identify as having a disability was 6%. And this was from data taken back in 2018. This is lower than the statistics of the Australian population at the time, which was 9%. So if we go by this statistic of 6%, this means that back in 2018, there were about 18,212 teachers who self-identified as having a disability. Within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander proportion of the teaching workforce, there is a disproportionate amount of teachers self-identifying with disability. Overall 11% of this group self-identified compared to the 6% of the non-aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teacher, teacher population.

I would like to draw attention to that language. Self-identified. This means that those teachers have chosen to reveal their disability status. Either with their employer or just with the survey, I’m sure that that statistic would actually be higher if you included those who, for whatever reason, did not disclose their disability.

Now, it would be interesting to delve into the reasons why there are only 6% of the teacher workforce with a disability, compared to the 9% of the Australian overall workforce with a disability Is this because people with disabilities, aren’t becoming teachers at a proportionate rate, or are they in fact joining the teacher workforce at a proportional rate, but are not reporting their disabilities to the departments or registering bodies?

My guess is it’s a bit of both. So if we break down that data a little bit further, 4% of early childhood teachers, 5% of primary teachers and 7% of secondary teachers self-identified through the study as having a disability.

I wonder if this proportion will increase as time goes by and the stigmas around disability or decreasing even more. The greater the proportion of the workforce who openly discuss their disability. That’s gonna put more pressure on our leaders and our systems to be actively supportive. This, in tern, is going to encourage more people to reveal their disability status with their employers. And again, that is going to encourage more people with disabilities to enter the teaching profession.

Now the nature of these disabilities varies quite a bit. 6% of teachers who self-identified as having a disability were for vision, 14% were for hearing. So to our anonymous teacher friend who shared their story of their discrimination, I just want you to know you are definitely not alone in being a teacher who is hard of hearing. 14% of teachers with a disability link that to a hearing disability. A further 23% of for mobility. 49% for medical reasons and 24% identified as other disability. Now I wonder what proportion of these disabilities are invisible. And by invisible, I mean that these are disabilities that aren’t visibly noticeable when you are looking at a person. People with invisible disabilities can become quite adept at hiding it, in order to reduce judgment by others. And they’re often met with dismissal of their disability due to the fact that it isn’t physically obvious.

If we take a bit of a pivot into discrimination and harassment due to having a disability. I found a graph that highlighted the percent of Australian public service employees who have experienced discrimination or harassment slash bullying. So this graph has grouped harassment and bullying together.

According to this graph, 10.9% of people with no disability have reported discrimination. This is compared to the 26.9% of people with a disability who have reported discrimination.

If we look at harassment and bullying 12.1% of people with no disability have reported harassment and bullying compared to 23% of people with a disability I couldn’t find any data specific to the teaching profession. Remember that this data is about the Australian public service employees. I’m actually unwilling to guess whether the proportion of reported discrimination or harassment slash bullying would be higher or lower for teachers than the average Australian public service employee.

I’d also like to highlight that of course those statistics are likely skewed as so many people do not report discrimination, harassment, or bullying in their workplace. Even though it’s against the law to discriminate, there is always that nickling doubt in the back of your mind as to the repercussions of reporting discrimination, harassment, or bullying. Particularly when it’s instigated by someone at a higher power level than you. And that’s a problem.

When employees do not feel safe in their work as a direct result of discrimination, harassment, or bullying, they need to at least feel safe to be able to report that that is happen. And when these things are reported, the employees need to feel safe and assured that they will be taken seriously. And that appropriate action is taken. Now our anonymous teacher friend explicitly stated that they do not feel safe to raise this issue further than they have already raised it.

They have tried going to their head of department for assistance and were blatantly turned down. They do not feel safe moving up that chain of command and raising this at a higher level. And I think that speaks volumes to the culture within our workplace.

According to the Human Rights Commission, disability discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favorably or not given the same opportunities as others in a similar situation, because of their disability. It can also occur when an unreasonable rule or policy is the same for everyone, but has an unfair effect on people with a particular disability.

Employers have a legal obligation to remove barriers that people with disabilities may face at work. Making these changes is known as reasonable adjustments. A failure to make reasonable adjustments may be discrimination. Under this ruling, the treatment that our teacher friend experienced is discrimination. They’ve been told to continue to work in an environment that directly affects their ability to keep their class safe. And it directly affects their ability for them themselves to be able to do their job.

The Australian government has recently switched gears into a more targeted strategy for attracting and retaining public servants with a disability. And this of course, is going to include teacher. The Australian public service disability employment strategy of 2020 to 2025 aims to be a foundation for building an inclusive and diverse Australian public service through attracting, recruiting and retaining more people with disabilities, as well as ensuring accessible and inclusive workplace cultures and ,environments.

As part of this strategy, I’m particularly interested in seeing work within the education departments in each state to focus on Focus Area Two, which is accessible and inclusive workplace cultures and environments. Now states that the desired outcome is to develop workplace cultures and environments that remove barriers to performance and support career development for all employees, including people with dis.

The key areas for improvement are inclusive culture and accessibility. It will involve changing the attitudes and mindset of our workforce and changing the way we work and engage with each other. Australian public service employees with disability must be central to and consulted on these actions.

Within this. There are a number of action points that I believe schools could really benefit from leaning into. I feel like we do this brilliantly for the most part with our students, but now it’s time to turn our attention to our teachers. And I identified five action points that I think our schools need to look at.

Action four focuses on agencies to provide disability awareness and capability uplift for managers and senior leaders. Action five. Agencies to implement the disability liaison officer model to support employees with disability. Action six, improve disability awareness and confidence to create an inclusive culture. Action, seven agencies to review business practices, to include workplace adjustments and to embed conversations about workplace and judgements into all stages of the employee life cycle.

And then Action eight, ensure employees with disability are supported and encouraged to take up mobility and career development opportunities.

I truly believe that if we can bring these five action points to life within our education system here in Australia, then what our teacher friend experienced would never have happened in the first place.

There would be a true culture of accepting teachers’ disabilities and actively working with them to ensure that they can do their job to the best of their ability while remaining. And comfortable.

Now, if you are a teacher with a disability and you are being discriminated against, you need to document document, document, you need to write down every instance of discrimination.

This should include the date, the time the person’s involved, as well as the context, you need to keep the information factual and not emotional, just like we do with student. But you also need to include the impact it has on your own mental health. Write down every instance where you have attempted to have the situation.

Rectified, include notes of conversations you’ve had proposed solutions provided to you and the actual outcomes. Now your first port of call should be your line manager. If they are unhelpful or are actually the one that is doing the discriminating, go a step up to your Princip. If you think it would be beneficial, have a trusted colleague with you as a support person. And to help you take notes about the discussions. If these conversations approving fruitless, your next step could either be HR or your union. Now your personal preferences and circumstances will dictate which way you go here.

But the more that you have documented, the better you are able to advocate for.

Make sure you make records of every conversation you have relating to all of this. If they happen in person or on the phone, send a follow up email with what was discussed. That’s going to act as your paper trail. If you’re uncomfortable sending an email to the people involved, then send an email to yourself.

Cuz this will give you a much more reliable time state than a date on a word document.

If you have exhausted all of your higher up options or you feel the degree of your discrimination is so severe that it warrants bypassing that chain of command, you can go straight to the Australian Human Rights Commission. They investigate and resolve complaints about discrimination at work, including complaints about disability or discrimination.

So to my anonymous teacher friend, I truly hope you’ve been able to successfully navigate through this issue and come to a resolution that actually works for you and is actually supportive of your disability.

To my dear listener. What do you think about this topic? Let us know by joining the conversation over in the teacher community, by staffroom stories on Facebook, or by following staffroom stories on Facebook or Instagram, I’d love to hear your perspective. And I know our anonymous teacher friend will be watching closely for replies. If you would like to share your own anonymous teacher file or your own story about discrimination within the teaching profession, because of your disability, please contact me via Staffroom Stories on Facebook, or you can jump on website, Head to the contact page there and send me an email.

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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