Don’t forget hidden disabilities in your inclusion drive

Despite 80% of people with disabilities in the UK having a hidden disability, the topic isn't much discussed in the workplace

People with “hidden disabilities” aren’t necessarily hiding their conditions from others. Rather, their conditions aren’t easy to spot, which means they can get left out of inclusion strategies at work.

What are hidden disabilities?

Also known as invisible disabilities and non-visible disabilities, hidden disabilities are not immediately
recognisable to others despite 80% of people with disabilities in the UK having a hidden disability.

Examples of hidden disabilities can include chronic illnesses and conditions that inhibit a person from carrying out normal day-to-day activities and make daily life, including work, more demanding.

Because these disabilities aren’t often not picked up by others, empathy and support can be lacking, which means this group can face inclusion issues in the workplace. This can lead to people with hidden disabilities not asking for relevant accommodations, which could reduce their productivity and wellbeing and make them feel that their business lacks psychological safety, where they feel they can’t speak up and be themselves.

During COVID-19, workers with hidden disabilities became more visible as many had to practice shielding during this period, making it even more urgent that their needs are met.

Here are a few examples of hidden disabilities:

  • Autism
  • Brain injuries
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Depression, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and other mental health conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • SpLDs – Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, ADD etc
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis
  • Visual and auditory disabilities (such as someone with impaired hearing who doesn’t use an aid)

Communicating support

Employers must remember that some people with these conditions may not consider themselves to have a disability. To limit causing offence while ensuring your organisation protects all groups in the workplace, it’s worth making an internal statement that your firm is willing to make adjustments and relevant provisions to support workers with a variety of conditions that impact their daily activities.

There could be times when the individual feels healthier and other times when their condition may impact their lives more, meaning that employers and colleagues must be mindful that many conditions don’t follow a regular pattern. This is why having a culture of psychological safety and transparent communications is essential, so the affected employee can regularly update line managers about how they are feeling.

Consider communicating support through workplace lunch-and-learn style sessions which can be implemented online or in-person. Organisations could bring in an expert such as someone with a relevant condition to speak to the workforce about allyship and supporting those with hidden disabilities at work.

Providing flexible working options for staff with hidden disabilities such as flexible hours and continued remote working options could be good for those who may need to attend regular medical appointments or for people with a condition that impacts their ability to regularly commute and attend an office environment.

It’s also worth referencing your firm’s support of talent with hidden disabilities in any inclusion and equal opportunities statement you make to outside parties, such as potential job-seekers via job postings and on your company website. This should be reiterated to all candidates during interviews to make your business known as a safe and accommodating space for people with hidden disabilities.

Ultimately, supporting employees with hidden disabilities isn’t only a key diversity and inclusion incentive, it’s also a good way to boost better productivity and wellbeing for this group in the workplace and ensure employee retention and company loyalty.

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