Think Twice Before Calling Her Lazy or Shooting Him a Dirty Look

Hidden Disabilities: Think Twice Before Calling Her Lazy or Shooting Him a Dirty Look

Have you ever had a co-worker clock out early a couple days each month? Why does management allow that type of laziness? Have you ever shot a dirty look to the healthy person abusing the accessible parking space? Isn’t that just about the lowest? Well, before you make snap judgements similar to these, keep in mind the possibility of hidden disabilities.

What Are Hidden Disabilities

Hidden disabilities, or invisible disabilities, refer to symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences, and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments.  These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations, and vary from person to person.

Also, someone who has a visible impairment or uses an assistive device such as a wheelchair, walker or cane can also have hidden disabilities. For example, whether or not a person utilizes an assistive device, if they are debilitated by such symptoms as described above, they live with hidden disabilities.

How Prevalent Are Hidden Disabilities

Hidden disabilities are much more common than you may think. Before branding that co-worker lazy think about this: Approximately 96 percent of people who live with an illness have an illness that is invisible. These people do not use a cane or any assistive device and may look perfectly healthy.

Is There Such Thing as Hidden Disability Discrimination

Yes. Of all the employment disability discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2005 and 2010, the most commonly cited conditions were invisible ones, according to analysis by researchers at Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute.

I Have a Hidden Disability, Should I Tell My Employer

You may be concerned that, after disclosing your disability, you will be viewed differently.

You can address this by demanding equal treatment. However, several things can occur after revealing your hidden disability, even by the most well-intentioned employees.

Some co-workers or supervisors may want to protect you from tasks they feel physically or emotionally demanding, which unbeknownst to them, diminishes learning experiences for you.

If you want to have choices about what challenges you take on, say so. Be proactive about requesting challenging work, and then demonstrate your commitment.  Let there be no doubt about your ambition or goals.

If you choose not to mention your needs, there are risks. If medical emergencies or safety aren’t concerns, the biggest risk you probably face is the possibility that your performance will be impaired by the hidden disability.

Disability doesn’t excuse poor performance, nor does it protect you from any actions that may result. If the organization has been working with you on reasonable adjustments, you have a much better chance of maintaining strong performance or improving decreased performance. There’s more trust, closer collaboration, and you’re better positioned for success.

Whether You Choose to Disclose Or Not

You may at times feel disadvantaged by the impact of your disability. Since you cannot change these issues, optimize all your assets. There are inspiring people everywhere with overcome obstacles by delivering consistent performance and professionalism at all times. Co-workers will see your performance first—and your disability second.

Image Credit: Shutterstock