Speech impediments: Grounds for discrimination?

When recruiting for a role that requires staff to talk to clients over the phone, what can HR do if an applicant suffers from a speech impediment? HC investigates...

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, people with speech impairments fall into the sensory and speech impairment category of disability.

The ABS shows that in a study of 14,719 people, 458 fell into this category. Of those, 53.7% were employed.

Issues can arise for employers if a candidate who is verbally impaired applies for a role in which verbal communication is fundamental.

So can employers be accused of discrimination if they reject a candidate with a speech impediment?

“Employers could certainly be faced with a claim,” Vince Rogers, partner at Ashurst, told HC. “The issue is whether they can prove that verbal communication is an inherent requirement of the organisation or role – if it’s an issue or a concern then they can rely upon that.”

The ASB advises us to consider that “people with sensory or speech impairment may be able to benefit from assistive technologies.”

Rogers added that employers must take several things, including the possibility of assistive technologies, into account before disregarding verbally impaired candidates.

“You would need to have regard to the extent of the impediment, and consider any ways in which communication can be facilitated,” he said. “Candidates who fall into this category may need to be assessed, and if so employers must show that the assessment has been conducted in an objective way. The key thing to do is resist making arbitrary decisions on the spot.”

The Public Service Commission website has the following advice for employers who are interviewing candidates with speech impairments:
  • Ask short questions that require short answers or a nod of the head. Listen attentively and keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting.
  • Try to minimise stress as this can exacerbate speech impairment, and resist the temptation to speak for the person if they are having difficulty expressing what they want to say.
  • When interviewing a person with a speech impediment speak as you usually would. Avoid speaking slowly or too simply unless you know that their vocabulary is limited. Don't raise your voice, most people with speech impairments can hear and understand.

Recent articles & video

OECD unemployment stays at 4.9%

Former DEI exec gets 5 years in prison for defrauding Facebook, Nike

Deel pioneers a new era in payroll

From full-time to casual: 'Struggling' employer converts worker's role without consent

Most Read Articles

Queensland resolves dispute on long service leave entitlements

'Confused' worker tries to clarify ‘unclear’ dismissal date

CFMEU, official get higher penalties after unlawful conduct appeal