It can be easy to assume that all disabilities are presented in physical ways, recognised by assistance such as wheelchairs and hearing aids. However, this isn’t true as 70% of disabled people in the UK have a hidden or invisible disability.

The definition of an invisible disability is a physical or mental health condition which is not visible from the outside but affects a person’s movement, activity or senses.

This can be daunting for employers as it may be harder to know how to accommodate for an invisible disability in the workplace. The first step in creating a diverse and supportive workplace is by being open-minded and willing to facilitate change. By listening to the needs of your staff, you will become more confident in employing and meeting the requirements of people with invisible disabilities.

As an employer, you must aim to create an accepting and inclusive environment. You don’t want to eliminate large amounts of potential employees, because you are unable to make adjustments for those with invisible disabilities.

It is important to acknowledge that employees do not have to disclose their invisible disability if they don’t want to, they may feel ashamed or worried about what others may think of them. As an employer, it is your job to encourage those people to ask for help and be able to support them in whatever way you can. To do so, first start by learning what invisible disabilities there are, here is a list of some of the most common:

  • Epilepsy
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning Disabilities (LD)
  • Hearing impairment
  • Vision impairment
  • Chronic pain/neurological pain
  • Mental health conditions
  • Brain injuries

There are numerous ways you can support an employee with an invisible disability, including:

  • Being open to conversation: Perhaps the first and most important thing you can do as an employer is to be open to conversation with your disabled employees. Make sure your employees know they can come to you to first disclose their disability and then request any adjustments they may need to do their job comfortably and safely. If somebody approaches you with a request to change something in the workplace or their schedule because of their disability, then know they have done this because they trust you with this information. Be as proactive as you can in completing their request and, if the disabled person consents, encourage a discussion with colleagues to improve their understanding of invisible disabilities in the workplace.
  • Signs: Many public spaces are opting to display signs in places such as lifts or accessible toilets, to remind people that “Not all disabilities are visible”. This can be an excellent way to show your support and indicate an inclusive workspace to others.
  • Support flexible working and time off: Employees with invisible disabilities such as chronic fatigue or chronic pain may need extra time off or benefit from flexible working hours, so they don’t have to work when they feel unable to. By supporting this, you are showing that you are taking the needs of your employee into consideration, providing adjustments for them to complete their work, safely and productively.

The government provides financial support to employers who hire disabled people (this includes visible and invisible disabilities). The Access to Work scheme entitles employers up to a maximum of £60,000 per year to cover any additional costs relating to workplace adjustments when hiring a disabled person. This may relate to aspects such as assistive technology, travel to and from work, and flexible working hours. You can be a part of providing valuable opportunities to disabled people, at no extra cost.

For more information, visit our page on funding.