As the name suggests a hidden disability isn’t obvious or visible. And without a guide dog, a walking stick or a wheelchair people can go about their day without anyone being aware of their impairment.

Listed below are examples of hidden disabilities.

Please note that some may not actually be classed as a disability if the severity and duration of symptoms does not meet the definition of the Equality Act 2010. Under the Equality Act 2010 an individual is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal day to day activities.

  • Deafness or hearing impairments
  • Chron’s disease 
  • Epilepsy
  • A visual impairment
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Traumatic brain injury

Why might employees be nervous telling HR about their impairment or disability?

An employee could still be adapting to the impact their disability is having on their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.  They may not be ready to talk about it with anyone, let alone their boss. Or they’re worried that people will make a fuss and treat them differently. And that makes them feel apprehensive.

What is a hidden disability? A man in a job interview nervously bites his nails whilst the interviewer reads his CV

For many disabled people a fear of discrimination in the workplace is the main barrier to asking for support. This relates both to the corporate culture within an organisation and a misunderstanding of the law. Employers need to welcome diversity and create a culture where our differences are accepted and valued.

How can HR/ employers support staff with a hidden disability?

Start by asking your employee what they need. We know that sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked.  It could be a simple request like having a desk that’s closer to the toilet. Or making phone calls from a quiet room instead of a noisy, open plan office.

Computer software designed specifically to support disabled staff is easily purchased online. Often, using Skype is a preferred communication tool for those with hearing impairments and lipreaders. Amplified telephones or a standing desk are other practical adjustments that are readily available. The Access to Work scheme provides more detail about funding.

What advice can you give a person with a hidden disability about asking HR for support?

You may be feeling laid back about asking for support because you have a great employer. Or you may be feeling anxious because you are unsure of the reaction you will get. Our suggestions are straightforward and practical.

  • Write a list of what you need in terms of support and adjustments
  • Familiarise yourself with the Access to Work scheme
  • Think about what questions you may be asked in the meeting and what you’d like to say in response
  • Email HR in advance and briefly outline what you want to discuss. This gives them time to prepare which can speed up the process in getting support.

How can employers meet the needs of disabled job applicants?

We’d suggest reading our Top Tips on Creating Accessible Job Adverts and Recruiting A Diverse Workforce. for a more detailed answer to this question.

If you’d like to improve disability awareness within your organisation please enquire about our group training courses. Fun, interactive and insightful they are a great way to learn.

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