Helping Employees Who Have Hidden Disabilities

Young woman in wheelchair working with a female colleague

Most people at the workplace would understand why a wheelchair-bound coworker might be provided with a special desk to carry out their daily tasks.

To put it simply, most employees can easily deal with the fact that a disabled employee would require special accommodations to carry out the essential functions of their job. However, disabilities are not always obvious to the naked eye.

Conditions such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, or diabetes are disabilities that require accommodation, despite not being easily visible to others. A diabetic employee may require more than one break during the day, in order to take their insulin shots. An ADHD patient may require a day off every two weeks, so they can get a check-up.

When an employer provides such accommodations to employees with hidden disabilities, some coworkers may see this as a display of favoritism.

Here’s what you can do to help your employees with hidden disabilities while avoiding potential misunderstandings in the workplace:

Allow Them to Open up

When you’re hiring an employee, be sure to ask them if they have any type of medical condition.

If the answer is yes, you need to find out what accommodations they would require to carry out their job efficiently. By getting your employees to disclose any conditions they may have, you can understand them much better, and this will help clear up any potential future confusion if it becomes an issue in the workplace.

Educate Your Employees

At the workplace, employees with disabilities may be discriminated against by their coworkers. It might be even harder for your staff to accept an employee who has a hidden disability.

To curb this problem, you should invest in a training program to help your employees understand that there are various kinds of disabilities, some of which are not always apparent to the naked eye.

By doing this, you can help clear potential tension and ease communication between your employees, and they will better understand their colleagues.

Give the Right Roles

Once you have learned of an employee’s disability, figure out what type of role they would be best suited to perform.

Under the ADA (American Disabilities Act) an employer is expected to provide reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee. However, this is only if the disability does not interfere with the essential functions of the job.

So figure out where your employee will fit into the organization in a way that their work is not impacted by their hidden disability.

Keep Them Motivated

Employees with disabilities, whether hidden or not, don’t want your sympathy. They are just looking for an equal opportunity to prove themselves in the corporate world.

So give them that opportunity by being clear about what the expectations are. Set performance goals, and don’t accept sloppy work. This way, they will stay motivated, productive, and focused on their jobs.

And when you refer to these employees, state their disability as though it is a condition and not their identity. For example, saying “He has bipolar disorder” is better than saying “He is bipolar”.

This will teach your employees not to discriminate, and will also assure your disabled employees that you are able to understand their situation and are willing to give them an equal chance to succeed in the workplace.

These are just a few tips on how to help your employees with hidden disabilities. They may require certain allowances to be able to perform their jobs effectively, but their goals are the same as everybody else’s – to achieve career growth while helping the company succeed. So, it’s up to you to provide those allowances and teach all of your employees that everyone deserves an equal opportunity without fear of discrimination.