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“Unless I tell them, people don’t know”: talking about hidden disabilities

Category: Hidden Disabilities

There are a huge range of reasons that people need flexibility and understanding in the workplace. This month we’re considering hidden disabilities. And how to effectively talk to potential employers, or existing colleagues, about your health.

Hidden disabilities are sometimes life-changing conditions that cannot be immediately noticed by an observer, except under unusual circumstances or if revealed by the person themself. A huge range of conditions fall under this umbrella, including depression and other mental health conditions, ADHD, and diabetes, among many others.

This generates different problems from those of persons with immediately recognisable disabilities. When you have a hidden disability, you must decide whether, when and what to disclose - as well as to whom. You might not be comfortable in doing that. People say there can be huge barriers to disclosure, including not being employed or being fired, limiting chances for promotion, and being treated differently by colleagues and employers.

How to talk about hidden disabilities

Every person should be able to bring their whole selves to work. That means being honest about what you want, and what you need, from an employer. The campaigning disability rights organisation, Scope, has some advice on how to broach existing, or new, issues you have with your health.

  1. It’s important to talk to your employer if you’re worried that you cannot do your job now or that you might struggle in the future. You have rights to adjustments.
  2. Be aware if you feel your capabilities are changing, Monitor how your condition affects you and talk to your manager before they notice that something’s changed. If it’s your employer who notices a change then ask them to arrange a meeting to discuss what’s happening as soon as possible.
  3. Be open and honest about what you’re experiencing. You can approach your line manager, or a member of the human resources team. You’re allowed to have someone accompany you during that meeting - this could be either a friend, colleague or union representative.
  4. Ask your employer for concrete suggestions and ideas to work together to support you. Ideally you want to avoid a situation where your employer does not understand your disabilities, and instead assumes you cannot do your job.

Reasonable adjustments for hidden disabilities

The UK’s Equality Act means employers, or potential employers, have to offer reasonable adjustments to any work they give you. Nearly seven million people of working age in the UK are disabled or have a health condition - don’t be afraid to talk about the help you need. Disability aware employers are becoming more confident in displaying their support for their employees. Search for diversity jobs with great employers today. 


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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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