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Dealing with Disguised Disabilities in the Workplace What can you do?

Read more Last updated: November 2019
In collection Work
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...avoidance of social settings, phone calls and withdrawal from conversations are the subtle but common behaviours of those with a hearing impairment. Is this you? Maybe a colleague or a friend?

Disabilities in disguise

Jacqueline Palmer is privileged to be a Trust Director for the Seashell Trust, a charity that provides a creative, happy and secure environment for children and young people with complex and severe learning disabilities which includes little or no language abilities. Within this role and reflecting on awareness weeks such as International Week of the Deaf, has got her thinking…

What does the law say?

Jacqueline Palmer: "A landmark case that I often recall is Archibald Vs Fife, not a strictly comparable case as here the disability was visible, but the ruling by the House of Lords applies across the spectrum of disabilities; they ruled that the positive duty to make reasonable adjustments under the disability discrimination act may extend to positively discriminate in favour of disabled people. In plain speak, it is fair to create not only an equal playing field but to go beyond and create an unequal playing field in favour of those with a disability.

In my experience working in large corporate organisations and now as an HR consultant, when I come across cases there often is no deliberate intention to ignore an employee’s disability, but there is a lack of time taken to observe colleagues for small signs of health conditions."

Two men working on laptops
© MED-EL

Top 5 Tips

Here are Jacqueline Palmer's top 5 tips for supporting people with disguised disabilities so that you and your employer are supporting people with disguised disabilities.

  1. Research your employers’ policies, procedures and occupational health support; no matter the size of an organisation these should be in place and available for you to easily access; ensure you familiarise yourself with them and make good use of them.
  2. Request that line managers are trained to spot the signs of hidden disabilities in their day today interaction with their people.
  3. Volunteer to lead topical disability campaigns for the business you work for here are some of the hearing loss campaigns you can support such as Sign Language Week or Deaf Awareness Week
  4. Create a networking group dedicated to workplace disability and ensure it’s on the business agenda by asking to attend HR, leadership and management meetings to talk about the group and disability initiatives it could lead on.
  5. Ask your employer to introduce disability mentors who, as subject matter experts, can train and counsel colleagues and managers in dealing with disability in the workplace; you can even volunteer to be one yourself!
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Jacqueline Palmer FCIPD

Executive Director - Henrys Ark Management Consultants
Jacqueline provides expert HR consultancy support including HR strategy, talent management, coaching, and employee engagement. To discuss how employers can better support employees with disabilities visit their page.

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