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Improving Invisible Disability Awareness in the Workplace

It is a natural human instinct, whatever environment a person is in, that they want to fit in, be accepted and not feel like their differences are highlighted or influence the way a group of people perceives them. If it’s at school, a social setting or the workplace people may attempt to hide their differences in fear of what others may think. People with invisible disabilities in the workplace might not feel comfortable to share information about their health concerns. Often at their own detriment, forgoing additional support or adjustments that could make them more productive and their lives easier.  To create a diverse and inclusive workplace that encourages people to bring their full self to work without fear of discrimination, organisations need to invest and educate their people on invisible disabilities. atWork Australia published a great article that outlines how the stigma of invisible disability is forcing people to hide their conditions, read here.

What are invisible disabilities?

An invisible disability is any impairment, injury or health concern that is not immediately visible to other people. For example, this could include physical, sensory, mental or neurological conditions. There is an estimated 4.4 million Australians living with some form of disability and approximately 90% of these people live with an invisible disability. It could be easy to think that living with an invisible disability is easier than living with a visible disability, as it may limit discrimination or derogatory comments when in a public setting. However, people who live with invisible disabilities often don’t receive the support they need or are questioned around the severity of their impairment as the barriers they are trying to overcome are not visible to others. Read more here about the prevalence of invisible disabilities.

Challenges your employees with invisible disabilities might face

For a lot of people who live with invisible disabilities they might not feel comfortable to share information about their condition with their colleagues or direct manager due to the fear of discrimination. Often, this can be at their own detriment as they forgo valuable support that can assist them in the workplace.

Often people with invisible disabilities can be misunderstood and be perceived differently by their colleagues who are not aware of the challenges they are facing in the workplace. A person’s barriers may impact the way they socialise with colleagues, making it harder to build strong relationships. They might interpret or process information in a different way which makes it difficult to learn new tasks. This is not a reflection of their intelligence, rather they have a different learning style. In time, if these challenges are not addressed it can impact a person’s work performance and their overall wellbeing. An employer can help their employees to overcome these challenges by educating their workforce on invisible disabilities, so people are aware and best equipped to support their colleagues.

However, it is essential that employers create an environment where people feel safe to speak up and share information about the challenges they are facing without fear of discrimination. atWork Australia have published a wonderful blog providing advice on how to support employees living with disability, you can read here.

What are your legal obligations?

There are no legal obligations for an employee to disclose information to their employer regarding their disability. Although, if an employer is unaware of the challenges their employee is facing, it is not possible for them to put supports in place for the individual.

However, there are legal obligations for employers when it comes to employing people with disability. According to the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 an employer or person acting on behalf the employer should not discriminate a person due to their disability. In terms of:

  • The arrangements made for how a person is selected to be offered employment.
  • Determining who should be offered employment.
  • Terms and conditions on which the employment is offered.
  • Can not deny or limit a person with disability access to promotion, transfer, training or any other benefits of employment.
  • An employee cannot be dismissed due to their disability.

Additionally, it is an employer’s legal obligation to provide reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s disability, unless the adjustment would result in unjustifiable hardship.

Making your workplace inclusive for people with invisible disabilities

Creating an inclusive workplace can be easier than you may think, it does not have to involve extensive modifications to the work environment or expensive training programs. More often than not, logical adjustments to work practices and process are all that is required. Read on to learn a few simple solutions for making your workplace more inclusive.

Have supportive conversations

The first step towards creating an inclusive workplace and arguably the most important step is creating an environment where employees feel comfortable to openly speak about the challenges they face in the workplace. Regardless of the disability or health condition a person lives with, the impact of their condition will be unique to them. So, generic and standard solutions may not be the most effective. Having an open conversation with an employee will allow the individual to get the right support to meet their needs and ensure they are a productive and valuable member of the team.

Reasonable adjustments

Every employee is entitled to reasonable adjustments that will give them equal opportunity in the workplace and support them to perform their role. So, what is deemed a reasonable adjustment? A reasonable adjustment is any workplace adjustment that allows a person to do their job safely and productively, in an inclusive environment. These adjustments are often the only thing that distinguishes someone with a disability, injury or health condition in the workplace. Find out here how atWork Australia can support your business to implement workplace adjustments.

Personalised support plans

Every employee in the workplace needs support, regardless if they live with a disability, injury, or health condition. And, as we all know, we are all different and therefor require support to meet our individual needs. For people who do live with disability, injury, or health condition they may have additional challenges in the workplace and a personalised support plan can clearly define the support they need. Here is a great story of how personalised support allowed an atWork Australia client to return to the job they love, read here.

Foster an inclusive culture

In order to successfully implement the initiatives mentioned above, it is critical that the workplace culture is focused on inclusion. To foster an inclusive culture, inclusion must be reflected within the organisation’s core values. Leaders at all levels of an organisation must continuously communicate the values and vision of creating a truly inclusive workplace. Here is a great example of an atWork Australia client who is now thriving due to an inclusive workplace culture, read here.

Work is for everyone

Everyone deserves an opportunity to have meaningful employment. Improving awareness on invisible disabilities is one small step that can help to create more opportunities for people who live with invisible disabilities, while ensuring they have the support they need to succeed in the workplace. People who live with these invisible conditions know what support they need, so don’t shy away from having conversations with your employees about the support they need. Providing individualised support benefits both employee and employer, as the employee then has the right support that allows them to be the best version of themselves. If you need support to create a more inclusive workplace, get in touch with atWork Australia today.

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