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We all agree that a diverse workforce is beneficial for companies – but how do companies know how to include all types of employees, especially those with hidden disabilities. You may have heard about high profile companies that hire specific disabilities. But for the most part we are applying to and working at companies that are still learning what disabilities are. This is especially challenging to those of us with hidden disabilities as employers and society as a whole may not have an accurate and complete understanding of what these “look like”. An article by Denise Brodey, recently published in Forbes, addresses the value in discussing hidden disabilities in the workplace.

Hidden disabilities can sometimes present unique challenges for employees and companies. Often people with hidden disabilities are reluctant to immediately share those disabilities with others in the workplace. But, not expressing what we need to be successful in our work environment is a disservice to ourselves and the companies we work for.

But, how do we do it?

It can be different for everyone - based on our work environments and the openness of the organization’s culture.  

The author of the Forbes article, spoke with a number of employees with various hidden disabilities and found that, “Many people will only talk anonymously; overwhelming, they think that outing themselves might ruin their chances of being promoted or would lead colleagues to question their work and abilities, even if they have a good reputation on the job right now”.

In my personal experience, I struggled with how much to share about my difficulties in managing a consistent work schedule and start time. This was something that was disability related for me, but I was worried that I would come off as just making excuses. I didn’t think my supervisor would take this seriously or understand the actual disability impacts I was dealing with. I eventually decided to bring it up with my supervisor because I was feeling so much anxiety about how I was “showing up” for work. I disclosed that it was mental health related and that this time of year was especially difficult for me. We discussed accommodations that would best support me during this time, and agreed to revisit these in 30 days to see if they were working for me.

Based on my personal experience and talking with others, the following may be helpful in addressing your hidden disability in the workplace.

1) Know what is available to you as an employee, such as:

Do you have the option of a flexible work schedule?

How much sick/vacation time is available?

Is Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) available or appropriate in this situation?

Are there options for alternative work locations?

Start by discussing these benefits and resources with your employers. You may be able to create a more inclusive work environment for yourself.

2) If your work environment doesn’t have a lot of options  - you may need to ask for more specific accommodations.

For a great list of resources and accommodation options, refer to Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

3) Remember to share, when appropriate,  with your employer some of the actions you are taking to support your needs.

I would love to hear from you about your experiences in disclosing or discussing hidden or visible disabilities in the workplace. Thanks for reading!

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Comment by Sammy Abeje on October 9, 2018 at 8:24am

This was a fantastic article, I need to remember that learning disabilities are not only in education environments.  This will be incredibly useful when I enter the workforce and start to find a job!

Comment by Janet - Great Lakes ADA Center on October 1, 2018 at 11:42am

Great article, thanks for sharing.  I am glad you mentioned JAN.  The offer many trainings on accommodations both for businesses and individuals. For more info: 

Comment by Adrienne Kleinman on September 28, 2018 at 4:17pm

Thank you for sharing this, Katie. It is so important that individuals with an array of specific needs feel not only supported, but heard, in their place of work. 

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