Written By Astriid Volunteer Sabeeha Kassam
Not all disabilities are visible. More than 20% of adults in the UK have a disability, but those health conditions or impairments that are not immediately obvious, or are only obvious in certain circumstances and settings, are referred to as ‘invisible’ or ‘non-visible’ disabilities. These terms include (but are not limited to) mental health conditions, neurodivergences, and energy-limiting conditions (such as fibromyalgia). It is estimated that 70-80% of disabilities are ‘invisible’ in this way.
Here is what you need to know about invisible disabilities and employment, the barriers that exist, and what strategies can be employed to improve access and inclusivity in the workplace for this pool of untapped talent. However, a new report from EY and University of East Anglia on inclusive work culture has highlighted compelling evidence on how to most effectively support people with ‘disabling, long-term health conditions’ at work, and a new parliamentary briefing on Invisible Disabilities in Education and Employment has also addressed the issue.
Evidence on the topic is sparse, due to most research being based on disability generally or certain conditions. However, from the briefing, the following information has been established.
Attitudes and awareness toward people with invisible disabilities
A consistent barrier is a lack of understanding and awareness from others:
- Self-reported discrimination is higher in those with intellectual or sensory impairments in contrast to purely physical ones.
- Facing criticism when accessing facilities for disabled people.
- Facing worse criticism for not wearing a mask in crowded public spaces.
This reduces the willingness to disclose a disability, because these attitudes impact an individuals’ self-worth and identity, placing them in the tricky position of weighing up potentially facing stigma to access support.
We can tackle this with:
- Reframing talent and skills: challenging the definition of ‘employability’ and focusing on skills, strengths, and abilities throughout the recruitment and retention process.
- Representation: challenging stereotypes and ensuring representation in media, senior positions, and hiring roles.
- Training and mentoring schemes: challenging misconceptions; disabled colleagues mentoring senior staff to raise awareness and improve inclusivity in workplace practices.
- Open communication: positive conversations around disabilities at work; line manager support is vital for empowering disclosure and continuing the conversation of communicating needs in the workplace.
- The employment rate is lower for disabled people and even lower for people with certain invisible disabilities.
- Access To Work can help support disabled people in employment, but awareness among employers is low.
- There is a lower call-back rate for disclosing a disability.
- 40% of people report discomfort revealing a disability at work, and 67% report there is increased stigma surrounding invisible disabilities.
Employer reported barriers towards hiring disabled people:
- Expense and difficulties in making adjustments.
- Impact on other employees.
- Health and safety risks.
- Potential for mistreatment from peers.
- Lack of applicants.
- Low employer capabilities.
- Inaccessible/ inadvertently discouraging recruitment processes. For example, generic job descriptions put disabled people off from applying or inaccessible application processes.
- Lack of representation of disabled people making hiring decisions (<6%).
- Having inflexible working hours, location of work, and remote/ hybrid opportunities has a key impact on the disability employment gap, especially when employers offer this temporarily. You can tackle this further by having inclusively designed buildings considering less recognised sensory/ informational barriers to increase accessibility.
- Disabled people are more likely to be self-employed, in part-time employment, paid less, or hired within the public sector. They are less likely to be in senior roles where remote working is more available.
- People with certain impairments, such as memory (62%), stamina (68%) and dexterity (66%) are more likely to require remote working. Providing online access and considering digital accessibility standards when designing online content also helps to tackle this.
- Allowing staff to attend medical appointments can be a reasonable adjustment, and flexible working can aid talent retention.
- Access to non-physical adjustments has improved, though under two-thirds of disabled workers said they still needed further support.
- Low awareness of the disability confident scheme.
- Low confidence in employer interpretation of ‘reasonable adjustment.’
- Difficulty carrying across adjustments between roles and employers.
- Difficulties accessing non-physical adjustments or adjustments for fluctuating conditions.
The removal of these barriers to employment can only make for a fairer workplace with more freedom, autonomy, and choice for disabled people, especially those with less-visible disabilities.
A cross-governmental approach to delivering policies and services is required to resolve unequal and ableist structures in society, and most importantly, people with invisible disabilities cannot be left behind.
Written By Astriid Volunteer Sabeeha Kassam
Here at Astriid, we match talented people with long-term conditions with meaningful work. We also work with employers to make sure that they can meet individuals’ needs, and help candidates through all stages of their ‘work-ready’ journey. Keep an eye out for Astriid Consulting, coming soon!
You can find out more and sign up as a candidate or an employer by visiting our website. You may also be interested in our research report – Employment And Long-Term Illness: The Invisible Talent Pool!