How can employees feel supported when disclosing disability to HR? The key is to understand why people choose not to disclose disability and address these issues. This article outlines 7 barriers to disclosure and offers tips to creating an inclusive workplace.

1. An employee may not consider themselves as disabled

It may surprise you to know that many people don’t consider themselves as disabled. In our training sessions we openly discuss what being disabled means. Delegates review case studies and share their thoughts, usually thinking of disability as a long list of medical conditions.
A true definition of disability is when ‘a person has a long term physical or mental impairment that has a negative impact on their ability to do day to day tasks’. On understanding this it’s not uncommon for a delegate to realise that applies to them. And that they would benefit from support.
So, it’s important to promote the definition of disability and show understanding. You can achieve this within disability awareness training sessions or induction materials.

2. Personal Data and Privacy

Employees often have a mistrust of providing personal data if they are uncertain what it’s for. (even if questionnaire is anonymous). Therefore inform staff of why you are asking for questions and be clear about how and where it will be used.
If the data has helped to shape an initiative or a decision on working practices let them know! As a result they can then see the value of disclosure and realise the positive impact on their workplace.

3. Fear of Discrimination

A deep-rooted, and understandable fear for a disabled person is that they won’t get a job, or a promotion after disclosing disability to HR. Disappointingly, the statistics in the UK confirm that it’s a reasonable concern to have. As an organisation please actively demonstrate to employees and job applicants that you are a diverse and inclusive employer. Here are ways to do that:
• Ensure that your recruitment process is accessible and inclusive
• Sign up to the disability confident scheme. Research shows that if an employer is actively recruiting disabled people current employees are more likely to disclose
• Promote a message of disability inclusiveness by representing disabled people/employees in both your internal and external communications
• Clearly address disability inclusiveness within any Equality and Diversity statements and policies

4. Unaware of the benefits of disclosure

It’s so common to focus on the pitfalls of disclosing disability to HR that it’s easy to overlook (or not know) the benefits. Research demonstrates that knowing about the Equality Act, understanding what constitutes as discrimination under the act, and being aware of reasonable adjustments gives employees the confidence to disclose. Here’s actions to consider taking:
• Provide training which covers the Equality act and reasonable adjustments
• Promoting internally the government run Access to Work Scheme.
• Sharing case studies and examples of possible adjustments which can be made
• Having a reasonable adjustment statement/ policy and clear procedure of how to request them

5. Negative disability stereotypes

There are so many negative stereotypes and myths about disabled people. These range from ‘they are lazy and choose not to work’ to ‘they are all inspirational people!’ These assumptions often hinder disclosure as no-one one likes to be labelled. It’s key that staff have disability awareness training delivered by disabled trainers so that these stereotypes and misconceptions can be addressed.

6. The Token Disabled Person

Aside from negative stereotyping an employee may be reluctant to become the ‘disability spokesperson’ or the token disabled person rolled out when needed. It should be recognised that an accessible environment isn’t only beneficial to disabled people but to everyone. As a result accessibility becomes the norm of the organisation and not something which is considered in relation to a minority. Here are a few tips:

  • Consider getting an accessibility audit – buildings and culture
  • Subscribe to the social model of disability and ensure that staff understand what this means through training and resources
  • Make all meetings accessible. Have a checklist available for what is required, and as standard policy create accessible presentations. Use video calls with subtitle options, and offer large print option for handouts.

7. Talking about Disability

It sounds obvious but establishing a good rapport will make it easier to have conversations which some find challenging to have. So please be aware of the power of words and choose your language and terminology with care. If staff feel that their employer is unlikely to respond well, they won’t be disclosing disability to HR. Consider these tips:
• Recognise the importance of scheduled 1:1 meetings between line managers and staff
• Ensure that health and wellbeing feature within these conversations
• Provide disability awareness training (virtually or in person) for managers. This equips them with the confidence and knowledge to discuss disability and reasonable adjustments.
The above list is not exhaustive. The culture of an organisation is so important but the more you understand the barriers that prevent people from disclosing the more you can do to remove these. And the better it is for everyone.

Please contact us for more information on our accessibility audits and virtual disability awareness training. Follow @EnhanceTheUK on twitter.