Understanding hidden disabilities in the workplace

Wednesday April 27, 2022

If you bank with HSBC, you may have noticed the roll-out of “Quiet Hour” in branches at the end of last year.

For those who bank elsewhere or haven’t seen the posters, Quiet Hour is a dedicated time for customers with invisible or hidden disabilities to receive additional support in a calm, distraction-free environment. This involves quiet spaces and specific training on hidden disabilities for HSBC staff.

It’s a positive move by the bank to improve disability inclusion and awareness, noting that a busy bank may be an intimidating and over-stimulating environment to someone with a hidden disability, such as autism.

What is a hidden disability?

A hidden disability is one that is not immediately apparent. It can be physical, mental, or neurological. The following list includes just some examples of invisible disabilities:

Autism, brain injury, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, depression, diabetes, dyslexia, epilepsy, lupus, audio or visual impairment.

It is estimated that 80% of disabled people in the UK have a hidden disability. Raising awareness of this is vital so that disabled people not only receive better access and support with day-to-day activities such as banking, but in other areas of life too, like employment.

Many people will not immediately disclose that they have a disability through fear of being labelled. As such, you may not realise you already have disabled employees working for you.

Encouraging disability inclusion

Understandably, employers will more often than not struggle with knowing how best to support an employee with a disability if it has not been disclosed.

It can also cause problems if managers are left making assumptions about certain behaviours. For example, an employee suffering from Crohn’s disease taking longer bathroom breaks; an autistic employee missing social cues and seeming rude; or a dyslexic person needing extra time for a written task.

Without the background, these sorts of situations might trigger performance management, which doesn’t always result in the employee getting the right kind of support.

How can you overcome this?

An employee with a hidden disability is more likely to open up if they feel that they are in a safe and non-judgemental environment. Such discussions can be sensitive, revealing sometimes embarrassing symptoms. So it’s important that employees know who they can speak to, in confidence, if they are struggling at work because of their disability.

Making reasonable adjustments

When you find out that an employee has a disability, you have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

There is a general fear that this will be expensive, however that is not always the case. We have seen one example of how HSBC utilises time and space for quiet to help their customers. Simple adjustments for employees may involve a revised seating plan, or diversifying communication methods. It really depends on the disability, which is why it’s so important to involve the employee when making adjustments.

Becoming a disability confident employer

Any employer can become disability confident, even before hiring a disabled employee. Providing inclusive opportunities and flexible approaches to work will reach a broader pool of talent and remove the barriers that some disabled people face when seeking and keeping employment.

If it’s something that you’d like to know more about, check out the government scheme, or contact your local HR Dept for advice on hiring, supporting, and retaining disabled employees.

Preventing People Problems

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