Advanced People Management

What does disability look like?

Great article by Chris Jay (I have condensed it down to the main points)

Chris writes that when people think of disability, what comes to mind is a wheelchair user. However, only 8% of the UK’s 12 million disabled people are wheelchair users. Furthermore, an even smaller percentage of people with disabilities have visible evidence of their impairment, such as assistance dogs or mobility aids disability therefore is hidden.

Hidden disabilities are yet to receive the recognition other forms of disability get, both in society and the workplace. There are loads of hidden disabilities from sensory disabilities, brain injuries, epilepsy, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, cystic fibrosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic kidney disease, learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD – that’s just to mention a few.

If disability is only identified visually, people with hidden disabilities could face great difficulty.  At work an employer less likely to make reasonable workplace adjustments to help someone with a disability that the employer cannot see. Colleagues and managers of people with hidden disabilities can also struggle to understand what they cannot see, and can even be dismissive or sceptical of its significance to a person’s performance.

Whilst this person’s condition may require reasonable adjustment in terms of extended breaks, a place to rest for a short period, reduced hours or the need to work from home this requirement may be viewed with scepticism and even reactions of disbelief by some, given that these symptoms were not present yesterday and may be gone tomorrow.

When it comes to disabilities that cannot be seen in the workplace, a lack of awareness is by far the biggest obstacle and the main contributor for the absence of an employer’s reasonable adjustment. By developing a disability awareness plan or policy in the workplace, a more understanding workplace can be created. Training of managerial staff is important, as this will make people aware in the organisation and people will be able to understand and support colleagues with a disability.

People consider that a disability effects only a small minority group. This is incorrect, the group represents a large part of the population with as many as 1 in 6 of the people in the UK having a disability. 12 million people in the UK have disabilities and a lot of these are hidden. Even if you are a small organisation employing 10 or less people you probably employ someone with a disability, you may not be aware of it.

Whether or not to disclose a hidden disability can be a big decision for a person, as people with hidden disabilities could feel that disclosing this information is too personal, and they may be hesitant through worry that colleague may ask questions or offer sympathy and attention, which is often unwanted. They could worry about workplace discrimination and worry that they may be treated differently or stigmatised.

Raising awareness encourages people to be confident and comfortable disclosing and discussing their disabilities. When someone feels comfortable with the disclosure of their disability, they can receive the help they may need to function better. The workforce will have more understanding of the needs of other people.

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