How to increase understanding and awareness of hidden disabilities in the workplace.

These days, many employers, after succeeding in a range of criteria, gain status as a “Disability Confident” employer. My question as always- is what does this actually look like? Being “disability confident” is a great label to have amongst the numerous labels which occur nowadays, but to me it becomes an overly general label and loses sight of understanding individuals who are unsure of their status as a disabled person.

One of the big challenges amongst the neurodiverse community (Dyspraxia, Autism Spectrum, ADHD etc) is the ever difficult question: “Do you see yourself as disabled?” I still don’t know what the right answer to this question really is. This same sort of response is a shared one, particularly from the Dyspraxia community to a large extent and also the Autism community since some of the traits of this also present to me as well.

Answering in the simplest form, via the Disability Act, I as well as every member of the neurodiverse community is disabled. But I guess we are just differently disabled. What I have isn’t visible to the eye, but it is there, and when I am having a particularly challenging day, I feel more “disabled” than not. This is because I have a lot of difficulty in social contexts and interacting with people, particularly face to face. Sometimes I go completely blank and lose my train of thought which in turn has an impact on my overall performance.

In terms of how to make the working environment more inclusive for people who, by law may be disabled, I think that having specialist courses carried out by specific organisations from the neurodiverse world would work. I think collaboration is the key here. Having organisations who may not know chapter and verse in terms of how to support an individual with Dyspraxia for example undertaking a course delivered by someone who understands the condition. This will in turn I believe see a huge positive turning point for neurodiverse individuals in the workplace to help them thrive.

The government has launched the Disability Unit which has a taskforce working on workforce disability reporting. To me, it is imperative that each workforce has direct communication about how it will carry this out and I don’t think the government should actually standardise this- as I believe it removes the responsibility of organisations who should be increasing their understanding by making their own decisions on the matter. Involved in this process should be empowering people with disabilities to discuss a typical day in their life in the workplace. If the government were to have the final say in what information was published, I think ultimately this would deter disabled people further from employment as they would very possibly feel like the story isn’t theirs to tell and false assumptions could be made along the way.

My last thought on this matter is that the government if anything should also be interested in smaller organisations as well as bigger organisations who employ disabled people if they are going to publish information. I think that a lot of people would be forgotten about if the focus was just on bigger organisations who employ 250 or more people. What’s more, is that personally I would feel quite lost in a big organisation as I feel there are too many people who would need to review their workplace satisfaction amongst other things. I think the conversation starts with collaboration between organisations who are classed as “Disability Confident” and another organisation who specialise in supporting individuals with organisations such as Dyspraxia, Autism & ADHD. This would then I think help to make people with these conditions aware of what potential employers do to make their “Disability Confident” workplace a reality!

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