Understanding Hidden Disabilities: How to Support Employees with Non-Visible Conditions

We all know the importance of creating inclusive workplaces for those with disabilities. But how do you operate if a member of your team has a non-visible condition?

First, what are hidden disabilities? These can include chronic illnesses like diabetes, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and fibromyalgia, but also neurodiversity, like autism, dyspraxia and ADHD. They may not be visible to the eye or consistently affect the body, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of respect and recognition.

That recognition can come in many forms – but workplace accommodations is a major factor that improves the working lives of disabled individuals.

These are some (but not all) of the challenges that employees with hidden disabilities face at work:

– Fear of disclosing their hidden disabilities due to concerns about stigma, discrimination, or the potential for negative perceptions from colleagues or supervisors.

– A lack of understanding, education and awareness from colleagues or employers can make it difficult for employees to receive the support they need.

– Many hidden disabilities have symptoms that fluctuate or are not always apparent. This can lead to challenges in explaining to others when they need accommodations or when they are struggling.

– Employees with hidden disabilities may internalise societal stigma, feeling inadequate or like they are “faking it” because their disability isn’t visible. This can impact their self-esteem and mental health.

– Requesting and obtaining reasonable accommodations for hidden disabilities may be a more complex process, as they may not fit traditional models of accommodation. Identifying appropriate accommodations can also be challenging.

– Managing a hidden disability can be emotionally draining, especially when employees feel they must hide their condition or constantly advocate for their needs.

– Employees with hidden disabilities may experience judgement from others who assume they are not working as hard as their non-disabled peers or who hold stereotypes about what a person with a disability should look like.

– Due to the need to constantly manage their condition and navigate the workplace challenges associated with it, employees with hidden disabilities may be at higher risk for burnout.

– Employees with hidden disabilities may find themselves in the position of constantly having to educate others about their condition and advocate for their rights, which can be exhausting and demoralising.

One of the most important things you can do as an employer is foster open communication in your business. If your people know that you prioritise supporting them to do their best work, they’ll feel more comfortable coming to you with their needs. Active listening is key here. Creating a safe space and dedicated time for your employees to share their thoughts and feelings is only going to benefit your business as a whole.

Reasonable accommodations that can support employees with hidden disabilities. These can include flexible work hours, ergonomic adjustments and assistive technology. There are lots of options that employees can offer for their team members, but these will only be beneficial if they actually suit the needs of the individual. Identifying those needs can be tricky, which is why it’s great to work with a specialist organisation like NATTC.

Our holistic approach means that we work with your employees to find out the areas that they need support in, as well as suggesting a wealth of solutions that can benefit them. Our clients have found this particularly helpful, because it’s difficult to know where to find the right technology – or even whether it exists!

We offer full workplace needs assessments, suggest improvements, source and install assistive technology and other resources, and provide specialist inclusivity training for employers and employees alike. This training raises awareness and can in turn reduce any stigma surrounding hidden disabilities.

The dedication you show to fostering a fantastic, inclusive work environment for your employees can not only improve morale, but also hugely boost retention and productivity.

If you’re ready to see those benefits for your business – book a meeting now!

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