Not all disabilities in the workplace are obvious. Do you know what to do?

It’s all too easy to think of a disability as being something visual. Somebody in a wheelchair is a very obvious and recognisable example of this. Yet of the 13.3 million people in the UK living with a disability, a large percentage of these disabilities are invisible. This means it is very easy to overlook disabilities that cannot be seen, or to consider them not real. The effect that this could have on a person living with an invisible disability is significant. As an employer you play a key role in ensuring you reduce the impact of this as much as you can.

Employer’s duty

All employers have a legal duty not to discriminate against an employee who has a ‘disability’ – the legal definition being, ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a significant and adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out day to day activities’.

However, we believe that an employer’s duty goes beyond being just a legal requirement.  By understanding and handling employees that have a hidden disability better, you can help that person feel valued and capable. 

Hidden disabilities in the public eye

It is widely known that some of the most successful people in modern-day society live with a hidden disability. For example, Tom Cruise is extremely dyslexic, Robin Williams was diagnosed with ADHD, Morgan Freeman has Fibromyalgia and Richard Branson talks openly about being dyslexic, and having struggled at school with it: ‘my teachers thought I was lazy and dumb’. Could your business afford to pass up the next Richard Branson next time you’re recruiting?

How can you help support someone with a hidden disability?

One of the latest methods being advised is to understand the barriers, rather than the disability itself. It’s not a one size fits all approach. It’s about getting to know the difficulties someone with an invisible disability faces on a daily basis, and helping to put together a support package for them. Would it help if they had flexible hours? Do they need somewhere to go for some quiet time or a longer break? Does noise or bright lights increase anxiety for them? There are lots of questions you can ask, and solutions you can work out together when it comes to helping break down the barriers.

Get your staff involved

Ensure all your staff are trained and aware that not all disabilities are visible. In fact, 96% aren’t aware, so this is really important for people to know. Think about training, mentoring and general awareness around the office. It’s important that we are all educated on the difficulties that some of these disabilities can entail. For example, someone with Dyspraxia might have poor time management, or someone with Dyslexia might not be able to meet deadlines. All of these issues are easily overcome when known. We are very lucky with the technology we have at our disposal these days, and there are some great tools available to help combat some of these issues and in turn reduce any unnecessary stress.

Seeking advice
Just because someone has a disability does not mean they will be less productive. In fact, in many cases it can be the complete opposite. A lot of the support you can offer is common sense. However, if you still feel unsure or would like some extra guidance in this area, we here at Breedon Consulting would be very happy to help. We believe employers have a moral duty to destigmatise disabilities in the workplace. If we all focused on this area just 1% better every day society as a whole would benefit.