Invisible disabilities are a growing concern in the UK workforce, affecting individuals who may appear physically able-bodied but face a range of challenges in the workplace. According to recent statistics, about 1 in 5 people are disabled, and in that about 80% of people have hidden disabilities such as mental health conditions.
According to a report by INvolve, a diversity and inclusion consultancy, 58% of UK employees feel their invisible disabilities are not prioritised. As the workforce becomes more diverse, it is crucial that employers recognize and accommodate the needs of employees with invisible disabilities to ensure a fair and inclusive working environment for all.
What are Invisible Disabilities?
Invisible disabilities aka hidden or non-visible disabilities are ones that aren’t apparent. Unlike other chronic illnesses that can be seen by anyone, these are not visible. However, they are capable of tampering with the quality of life people live.
These disabilities can be painful and exhausting for anyone going through them, but their invisibility makes it difficult for others to acknowledge. A few examples include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Any sort of auditory or visual impairment
- Mental health conditions
Invisible Disabilities in the Workplace
The inclusion of disabled people in the workplace has been a highly discussed topic for several years. In an attempt to make workplaces more inclusive, the UK government has constantly encouraged hiring disabled people. Moreover, the Equality Act 2010 ensures employers do not discriminate against disabled people and make reasonable adjustments for them.
However, the issue lies when the disabilities are not visible. Since mental health conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD, depression etc are not visible, the need to create reasonable adjustments diminishes. Not because these conditions are not important, but because they are not obvious enough to tackle. Additionally, co-workers and employees may not see someone’s behaviour as a result of disability, as it is not obvious, and may misunderstand it.
The report by INvolve explains that respondents with hidden disabilities have a tough time at work as around 32% report that their disability causes added stress. But it is not just work, these invisible disabilities also affect their wider professional relationship which makes them want to quit their job.
Employees Unable to Disclose Hidden Disabilities
While the attitude towards hidden disabilities are improving, at present a majority of employees do not feel their hidden disabilities are being prioritised. In addition, a small but significant amount of people (37%) don’t disclose their hidden disabilities as they do not want to be singled out. The lack of support towards hidden disabilities also plays a big role in employees being unable to disclose them.
With the cost-of-living crises looming over the UK workforce, employees remain demotivated to demand for more as they fear losing their jobs entirely. Budget cuts in the workplace indicate that they may not be receiving the support they need. Moreover, according to a National Disability Survey in 2021, the stigma regarding mental health conditions has created further barriers for people with disabilities.
What Needs to Change?
First and foremost, the attitude towards people with hidden disabilities needs to change. It is important to raise awareness of hidden disabilities, mainly so that people do not diminish the damage they can do to a person. Offering training and workshops to not just educate people but also on inclusive leadership is crucial to the cause.
This is not to say that the UK workforce does not know how to be inclusive, but it is important to be inclusive in a manner that is positively received by someone with hidden or visible disabilities. For example, as an employer, don’t just ask whether an employee needs reasonable adjustments but have an in-depth conversation to understand their needs. On the flip side, if you are someone with a hidden disability, make sure to clearly state what your requirements are.
In a nutshell, creating a workplace where people can openly talk about their disabilities and what they need for a productive work environment isn’t going to happen in one day. But it is important to start now, one small workshop at a time, for it to have an impact on future generations.