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Socially constructed hierarchies of impairments: The case of Australian and Irish workers’ access to compensation for injuries

Objectives: Socially constructed hierarchies of impairment complicate the general disadvantage experienced by workers with disabilities. Workers with a range of abilities categorized as a œdisability are likely to experience less favourable treatment at work and have their rights to work discounted by laws and institutions, as compared to workers without disabilities. Value judgments in workplace culture and local law mean that the extent of disadvantage experienced by workers with disabilities additionally will depend upon the type of impairment they have. Rather than focusing upon the extent and severity of the impairment and how society turns an impairment into a recognized disability, this article aims to critically analyse the social hierarchy of physical versus mental impairment. Methods: Using legal doctrinal research methods, this paper analysis how Australian and Irish workers’ compensation and negligence laws regard workers with mental injuries and impairments as less deserving of compensation and protection than like workers who have physical and sensory injuries or impairments. Results: This research finds that workers who acquire and manifest mental injuries and impairments at work are less able to obtain compensation and protection than workers who have developed physical and sensory injuries of equal or lesser severity. Organizational cultures and governmental laws and policies that treat workers less favourably because they have mental injuries and impairments perpetuates unfair and artificial hierarchies of disability attributes. Conclusions: We conclude that these œsanist attitudes undermine equal access to compensation for workplace injury as prohibited by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.