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"I mistakenly believed she was intoxicated": mortified security chief requests industry education to assist employees in identifying invisible disabilities


A Queensland security firm says more industry training is needed for front door staff so they can better work with people who have less obvious disabilities or impairments.    

Key points:

  • A Queensland security firm says more industry training would help staff to better identify and support people with invisible disabilities
  • Invisible disabilities are not always obvious to others, and can include mental illnesses
  • International Day of People with Disability is Saturday, December 3

Security Guards Queensland operations manager David Dawson said he was mortified after assuming someone was drunk or disorderly while working outside a nightspot, only to learn they were living with a disability.

He said a group of women had approached the nightclub where he was working, and he thought one was having some trouble walking.

Man sitting in office with grey hair

David Dawson says more training would help staff better identify and support people with non-visible disabilities.(Supplied, David Dawson)

"I've told this young lady that she probably had enough to drink and it was time to go home, when her friends told me that she had cerebral palsy," he said.

"I was quite embarrassed.

"I accidentally made a pre-judgement from 20 metres away, but yeah she was let in that night."

Mr Dawson said he had never received any formal training or class on identifying or understanding people with different disabilities.

"Just by giving them a background on what different disabilities are and how they present would open up a lot of people's eyes.

"It would be beneficial for everybody — not just security guards."

Almost all disabilities 'invisible'

Figures from the University of Sydney estimate that 90 per cent of the 4.4 million people with disabilities in Australia are living with an invisible disability.

PhD researcher Stephanie Mantilla said the term also covered depression, fibromyalgia, lupus and other conditions.

Woman with long hair and glasses at night in park

University of Sydney researcher Stephanie Mantilla says 90 per cent of people with disabilities have invisible disabilities.(Supplied, Stephanie Mantilla)

She said many without an obvious disability felt they were being judged when using an all-access bathroom or parking in designated areas.

"They have been called out or they've been given a dirty look in public because they don't conform to what we often imagine disability to look like."

A spokeswoman for the Queensland Human Rights Commission said 60 per cent of discrimination complaints dealt with last year related to invisible disabilities. 

In one instance, children were treated as naughty by schools and sometimes suspended over behaviours due to their condition.

In others, public housing tenants risked eviction because neighbours made complaints about their noise or behaviour, not realising it was related to their disabilities.

A disability many don't see 

Jacob Templeton, 27, is a Paralympic swimmer and now high-performance sports coach. He said his form of blindness — retinitis pigmentosa — could often go unnoticed.

He described it as a form of tunnel vision and night blindness, which meant he was likely to miss things not directly in front of him.

Man in white cap and glasses, speaking to swimmers preparing to dive into pool

Jacob Templeton says few people would realise he has a significant visual impairment.(Supplied, Jacob Templeton)

He said he managed his impairment so well that others rarely notice his blindness, but it also meant less understanding and patience from others.

"People think I can do everything to the ability of someone that has perfectly good vision."

He said he once tripped over someone in a wheelchair, who had been outside his field of vision.

"I found that really hard  because I was thinking 'Well maybe you guys don't know that I've got poor vision, but I really didn't mean to trip over someone in a wheelchair'," he said.

World-conquering swimmer asks for patience

Daniel Fox, 28, won a silver medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games, bronze at the Rio Games in 2016 and holds a world record for the 50-metre and 100-metre freestyle in the S14 classification, which covers intellectual impairments.

Now in the second year of a plumbing apprenticeship, Mr Fox said he often had to ask for understanding because his disability was not obvious.

"There's my little ups and downs, where I do find it hard at work and people do give me a hard time about it as well," he said.

"I just have to say that it takes me quite a bit longer than everyone else.

"But at the moment, I think I'm improving in little ways, for sure.

"It definitely takes a bit of patience just to know me, and give me a chance as well.

"Give me a little while to stick in there — let me grow on you."

Man in fluoro green hoodie on work site

Daniel Fox is a second-year apprentice plumber and medal-winning Paralympian who lives with an intellectual impairment.(Supplied, Daniel Fox )

The Queensland Office of Fair Trading said while security industry training was set at a national level, it encouraged any venue to educate staff on disability awareness.

Braedan Jason is an Australian Paralympic swimmer with cone-rod dystrophy.

He is a content maker with ABC and has been commissioned to produce stories to celebrate International Day of People with Disability, which is on December 3.

The partnership provides a unique national platform to increase public awareness, understanding and recognition of the contributions of people with disability within the Australian community.

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