Visible vs. Invisible Disability
While it may seem obvious that someone who uses a wheelchair or other assistive device is disabled, so is the person with an invisible disability. Both visible and invisible disabilities are equally valid and real, and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Despite the growing disabled population around the world, there exists a long history of bias and discrimination against disabled people that still affects society today.
Being a disabled person in the workplace can exacerbate these issues, especially when asking for necessary accommodations or disclosing invisible disabilities.
5 Tips for How to Incorporate Invisible Disability Awareness at Work:
1) Remember that accommodations are necessary, not a burden
People with both visible and invisible disabilities face stigma and bias in the workplace, especially when it comes to asking an employer for necessary accommodations. However, people with invisible disabilities may face unique challenges in these situations due to the fact that their medical conditions go unnoticed by other people. At work, this can create additional layers of complexity and stress for people with invisible disabilities and may even prevent them from accessing resources and accommodations that they need to function.
Make the process of requesting accommodations easy and safe so that people feel comfortable and secure.
2) When someone discloses their invisible disability to you, avoid “But You Don’t Look Disabled” responses
When someone discloses their invisible disability to you at work, treat it with respect. They’re putting their trust in you by telling you about a significant life-altering condition that they have, and it’s up to you to meet this opportunity with compassion and empathy. While you may be well-intentioned by telling someone that ‘they don’t look disabled,’ it invalidates their lived experience of disability. Remember that even if someone appears ‘normal’ or ‘healthy,’ everyone’s bodies are unique and health is an extremely broad spectrum that is different for everyone.
Instead, respond by thanking them for sharing that information with you and ask how you can be supportive. And most importantly, don’t share their personal medical information with anyone else unless they give you permission.
3) Disabled is not a dirty word
While every individual has a unique and nuanced relationship to their disabled identity, the term disability is not a dirty word. Disability is a part of life, and deserves greater awareness.
Outdated or euphemistic terms such as ‘handicapped’ or ‘differently-abled’ should be replaced with the terminology that the disabled community asks you to use, such as disability. Examine your everyday communication and cut out any ableist language you may unintentionally be using.
Note: Some individuals may have unique language preferences when referring to their own disability, in which case you should defer to their preferred terminology.
4) Erase Stigma By Raising Awareness
Educate yourself and your team by inviting disabled speakers to speak about invisible disabilities and raise awareness. Just because a disability may not be visible, doesn’t mean that it isn’t real or debilitating. Continuously learn about how you can create an inclusive workplace and support coworkers and peers with disabilities in a respectful and meaningful way.
5) Break Down Barriers
Foster a culture of empathy, compassion and understanding by creating a workplace that values inclusivity and accessibility. Find and hire disabled candidates from disability-focused job boards like Diversify Tech, Chronically Capable, abilityJOBS, and Diversability. Make sure accommodations are implemented and maintained, and routinely ask for feedback on how to improve accessibility and functionality.
Why We Need Invisible Disability Awareness In the Workplace
16% of the world’s population experiences significant disability, or 1 in 6 people as reported by the World Health Organization. In the United States, the disabled population is even higher, with every 1 in 4 people living with some form of disability, according to the CDC. It’s highly likely that someone you know lives with some type of disability, or that you will experience living with disability in your own life at some point, especially as we age.
Invisible disabilities can be challenging and isolating to deal with without a community of support. By raising awareness in the workplace and in our everyday lives, we can create a more accessible, inclusive, and equitable future for everyone. Learn how you can elevate your DEIBA practices to eliminate workplace discrimination by reaching out to The Rise Journey today.