The CDC defines a disability as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” The official CDC definition then goes on to say, “Although “people with disabilities” sometimes refers to a single population, this is actually a diverse group of people with a wide range of needs. Two people with the same type of disability can be affected in very different ways. Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see.” Of those who identify as disabled, “Out of the more than 20 million working age (18-64) people with disabilities, only 7.6 million have jobs.” Due to this large gap in employment availability for disabled peoples, many people choose to keep their hidden disabilities a secret at work. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, “a full 30% of the professional workforce fits the current federal definition of having a disability — and the majority are keeping that status a secret. Only 39% of employees with disabilities have disclosed to their manager. Even fewer have disclosed to their teams (24%) and HR (21%). Almost none (4%) have revealed their disability to clients.” If some disabilities are hidden and if no two people experience their disability in the same way, how can a person with disabilities be successful at work in an environment designed for the progression of able bodies? A rhetoric of shame and secrecy surrounds the workplace for those who suffer from a disability. For those who have suffered in silence, changing the conversation around disabilities in the workplace is a necessity and a right. Here are three ways to start that change:
1. Understand What Your Body Needs
The first step to any change is knowledge. Do you have an invisible disability? Disabled World defines an invisible disability as, “certain kinds of disabilities that are not immediately apparent to others. It is estimated that 10% of people in the U.S. have a medical condition which could be considered a type of invisible disability. Nearly one in two people in the U.S. has a chronic medical condition of one kind or another, but most of these people are not considered to be disabled, as their medical conditions do not impair their normal everyday activities.” Some examples of hidden or invisible disabilities are:
- Psychiatric Disabilities—Examples include major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Attention Deficit-Disrorder or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(ADD/ADHD)
- Learning Disabilities (LD)
These disabilities each contain their own specific stigmas that make it even more difficult for those suffering to acknowledge their needs, nonetheless, they are valid disabilities that deserve to be taken seriously in the workplace. Understanding what you need from your workplace is the first step in refusing to suffer in silence.
2. Tell The World What You Can Do
There will always be people in the world who refuse to see disabled people as anything other than less than able-bodied people. Regardless of this prejudice, disabled people can accomplish as much as if not more than some able-bodied people! Instead of focusing on what you cannot do, highlight to your employers what you can do within your boundaries. Citizens Information says, “The onset or progression of a disability can be devastating. However, it does not always mean that you will have to give up your job. Employers are obliged to make reasonable accommodations for staff with disabilities. Often, you can continue working in an adapted workplace, or with equipment and changes to your work practice and conditions of employment.” Association for Talent Development (ATD) suggests setting up a Diversity Awareness campaign within the workplace to help your employer and co-workers to understand the necessity of workplace accessibility and diversity. It may be daunting to approach your employer in this way, but a professional coach can help you take steps to build your confidence and speak up for your needs. You deserve to work in an environment that understands your strengths and abilities.
3. Refuse To Suffer In Silence
According to Accessibility.com, “roughly as high as 20% (or more) of Americans have an invisible disability.” That means that if you have a hidden disability, you are not alone. Americans who suffer from a hidden disability are also protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Therefore your employer is prohibited by law to discriminate against you because of your disability or to withhold opportunities provided to your able-bodied co-workers and your employer is also legally obligated to provide an accessible workplace environment. Organizations like the Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA) can help support you in introducing your workplace to the need for accessibility for those with hidden disabilities. There is also legislation being introduced to Congress designed to increase accessibility in America. Accessibility.com is a foundational resource for all disabled peoples and the US laws that protect them. Sometimes it can be difficult to fight for our rights, especially in the workplace, however, the United Nations (UN) reports, “National employment studies, including a 30-year analysis by DuPont de Nemours, show that persons with disabilities have equal or higher performance ratings, better retention rates and less absenteeism. Employees with disabilities relate better to customers with disabilities. In the United States, this represents $1 trillion in annual aggregate consumer spending.” These findings reveal that greater accessibility in the workplace is not only beneficial for you but also for your employer! So don’t give up your fight. In the end, a more accessible workplace will benefit everyone..
You deserve to work in an environment that supports you. Your hidden disabilities are valid, should be respected, and should legally be accommodated. Know your rights, know your ability, and stand up for a workplace that helps you thrive. A professional coach can help you understand where your needs are not being met and develop the best plan for active change.