Hidden disabilities in the workplace

When people think of disabilities, they tend to think of physical disabilities. Having impaired vision, missing limbs, or the like are immediately recognizable, and it’s known that people need help to live with them.

In recent years, however, “hidden” disabilities have become a hot topic. These are referred to as such because they are usually biological or mental in nature, which usually makes them less obvious. People with conditions like epilepsy, autism, or post-traumatic stress disorder often have “unusual” traits or behaviors that are not apparent at first. In addition, since many of these disabilities were not truly discussed until recently, there are relatively few people who know about them.

For people who know that they have hidden disabilities, there are two options: reveal them and risk getting belittled or stigmatized, or keep them a secret and risk getting judged for their behavior.

Naturally, one area where hidden disabilities can come into play is the workplace. Here, the distinction becomes even more important. Reporting a disability can sometimes be the difference between getting accommodations and being punished (or worse, fired) for actions caused by a disability.

But as already mentioned, there is a great risk of misunderstanding, so it is reasonable that people might want to keep their disabilities to themselves. For example, someone with ADD may be used to being ridiculed for not focusing, and someone with a mood disorder may be used to always looking bored. On top of this, people with hidden disabilities have largely gotten used to not mentioning them on résumés, as this often results in rejection.

In the end, one could argue that “hidden” disabilities aren’t truly invisible, so much as they are difficult to understand. As already mentioned, they didn’t truly enter popular discussion until recently, and many of them have a history of being dismissed as personal failings or issues that render someone completely unfit. The most that can be done at this point is getting the word out about these disabilities.


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