Hidden Illnesses and Their Effect on Business

Although I’ve already written about Delsion’s Disability Confident event for indycube CIC and for Steps Training Ltd, I wanted to write something from my own viewpoint as well. As a coworking space interested in new businesses, indycube’s blog post focussed on Disability Enterprise, while Steps’ focussed on the current culture of disability in Wales. However, I felt I had more views of my own to express in response to the day which was held in the Swansea Marriott Hotel.

I learned some shocking statistics about disability and employment – including that 42% of disabled people feel that the attitude of the employer is the biggest barrier to finding a job. While the event was ongoing, I also learned some interesting things from Twitter users who were actively campaigning against the event. These people believed beyond all doubt that discrimination was rife in the employment industry and that there was no possible way to find work for the disabled. (Had they been at the event, listening to the stories of working disabled people, they may have changed their stance, but that’s another issue!)

Discrimination of the disabled is, of course, a major issue – one which the Disability Confident event was set up to address  – however, I’d like to take a closer look at invisible disabilities. Disability, particularly physical disability, is often thought of as a visible phenomenon. Issues like being wheelchair-bound or struggling with motor skills are obvious from the outset, and can cause immediate discrimination, preventing individuals from finding paid work. But what about invisible or hidden disabilities? Many people living with hidden conditions will find work without trouble, but will struggle to maintain a job, or else be miserable doing so.

Invisible disabilities can include:

  • Auditory impairment
  • Visual impairment
  • Alcohol abuse, or dependence
  • Agoraphobia
  • Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Dyspraxia
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Trichotillomania
  • Schizophrenia

The above list gives only a few examples of disabilities many will choose to hide from an employer for fear of social stigma. Fear of losing a job due to mental health issues or another invisible illness is enough to drive some to battle through, feigning health and happiness while wearing themselves into the ground.

Ruby Wax recently wrote a piece claiming that we should never tell an employer about a mental health issue, and should lie about having a physical condition instead. While it’s true others may not understand the cause of a hidden disability if they cannot see the evidence in a visible way, the impact of living with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, for example, can be significantly debilitating.

I’ve blogged before about the benefits of self-employment and freelancing for those living with the above issues, but realise that this is not possible for everyone. What is possible, however, is honesty. While the Disability Confident event focussed primarily on physical disability, the same rules apply to less obvious conditions. Discrimination is unacceptable in all walks of life. Employers should focus more on hiring the right person for the job, someone who fits in with their company, regardless of the need for physical assistance or flexible working hours. Employers should also encourage honesty in their employees, assuring staff that their needs will always be met.

While the reality of a hidden disability can be difficult for others to recognise or acknowledge, we will get nowhere by assuming the worst and keeping things hidden.

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