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Top tips to help employers bring hidden disability training into the workplace

On any typical day, most modern people spend a great deal of time watching screens. Whether for study, work, or viewing content, ours is a culture of consuming information visually. This can pose real challenges for people with invisible disabilities. Many people live with disabilities that are not apparent on first glance. Without the visual cues that make it obvious someone may face significant challenges in their daily life, those struggles and additional needs can easily go unnoticed.

A person may look young and healthy but struggle with exhaustion, chronic pain and other inconveniences related to living with something like Crohn’s disease. Equally, a person who looks very confident and healthy may struggle with severe anxiety and panic attacks that make ordinary interactions extremely challenging. These people do not have wheelchairs or other obvious visual signals that they have a disability, so their conditions are often described as ‘invisible’ or ‘hidden’. Unfortunately, these people often suffer in silence or even face issues with people not believing they really have a disability.

Just because a person may look perfectly healthy from the outside,
they may still be struggling with a hidden illness or condition.

Any employee in a workplace who has an invisible disability should not be made to suffer undue hardship in the workplace, and it’s the responsibility of their employer to accommodate their employees’ needs. Whether you’re an employer, or just looking to improve things at your place of work, here are some tips for bringing hidden disability training into the workplace.

Discourage a workplace culture of making assumptions about people – and never insist someone is ‘able-bodied’

No matter how young or how athletic a person looks, they can still suffer from inhibiting issues like chronic fatigue, chronic pain or mental health problems.

Encourage an attitude amongst your employees that just because a person appears happy or calm, this doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing discomfort. People with invisible disabilities may often try to maintain an appearance of ‘professionalism’, even when they are struggling. If someone has a practised tolerance of their symptoms, they may be likely to put a brave face on. This doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing mental or physical distress.

Be aware that you are obliged to make accommodations

People with any type of disability are protected by law. When someone with a disability asks for an accommodation, there may be some who feel the accommodated person is being given an unearned advantage. It’s important to understand that requesting and using an accommodation can be stressful for many. Many people are likely to avoid asking for accommodations whenever possible, even when they could be extremely beneficial. Your employees need to understand that invisible disabilities can often put people at a disadvantage, and the accommodations you can offer them help to balance that.

Encourage employees to want to understand

If an employee or coworker has entrusted their disability status to you or their colleagues, people should want to know more about it. When employees increase their knowledge of those disabilities, they will be more able to empathise with their coworker. This can improve collaboration and encourage an understanding that many people have their own experiences with disability.

Encouraging open discussion about disability in the workplace can help those with all types of different needs to feel comfortable.
Encouraging open discussion about disability in the workplace
can help those with all types of different needs to feel comfortable.

Lead by example: advocate!

Take opportunities to educate yourself wherever possible and share the knowledge you gain with coworkers and employees. This is particularly important if you hear someone questioning another person’s disability. If you have an invisible disability yourself, observe how that plays out at work and what could be done to improve your situation. Sharing one’s disability status can be a great way to destigmatise invisible illnesses.

People live with all sorts of invisible disabilities and conditions. Some common examples of conditions you may not realise someone is living with include:

  • Arthritis
  • PTSD
  • Epilepsy
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Auditory difficulties

These people would often prefer control over their lives rather than disclosing their disability and requesting that their employer makes an accommodation. Some will tell, others will keep it to themselves. When a disability is known about, it’s important to be understanding and ensure the workplace is a supportive and welcoming environment to get the best out of everyone.

For help, speak
to one of our team
call 0333 331 3770

A photo of a customer service employee.