Skip to main content Skip to main menu >Toggle high contrast

Accommodating Invisible Disabilities in the Workplace

Accommodating invisible disabilities in the workplace can pose challenges to both the employer and the person with the disability. Most people are familiar with disabilities they can see. As a result, employers may be more comfortable with accommodating visible disabilities. But what about invisible disabilities? This article will explore invisible disabilities and outline how an employer can be accommodating in the workplace.

Defining Invisible Disabilities

An invisible disability can be a cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, or sensory condition that limits a person’s behaviours, senses, or activities.

There are too many invisible disabilities to name them all, but some invisible disabilities include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Arthritis
  • Brain injuries
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Chronic pain
  • Hearing impairment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Memory disorder
  • Mental illness
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Challenges Facing People with Invisible Disabilities

People with invisible disabilities sometimes struggle with disclosing their disabilities due to fear of stigmatization or discrimination. They may face perceptions that their disabilities are not real because they are not physical or visible. Perceptions such as these make people with invisible disabilities feel misunderstood, ignored, and invalidated.

Accommodating Invisible Disabilities in the Workplace

Employer responsibility

Firstly, employers have the duty to make every reasonable effort, short of undue hardship, to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities in the workplace. However, if an employer does not know about a disability, then the duty to accommodate is absent.

Work together

Secondly, all parties must work together to find appropriate accommodation solutions. When the employer receives a request for accommodation, the employer should make multiple proposals for the employee, who can then review all proposals.

Determining forms of accommodation

Lastly, when determining what forms of accommodation are needed, employers must know what the functional limitations of their employees are. However, employers are not entitled to know the exact diagnosis of their employees. The employer must adhere to the Privacy Act. They must also include the steps to ensure the privacy of the worker’s personal information in the accommodation plan.

Ways of accommodating invisible disabilities

Employers are responsible for taking an active role in ensuring that accommodation solutions are investigated and implemented promptly. Examples of accommodating invisible disabilities in the workplace include, but are not limited to:

  • Making improvements to the office area
    • Examples here include replacing office equipment with more ergonomic options for an employee suffering from chronic pain or providing a quiet office with a door in low traffic areas for an employee with ADHD.
  • Modifying work schedules
    • For example, allowing more restroom breaks for an employee with a Gastrointestinal disease or a compressed work week for an employee with MS.
  • Providing advance notice of meeting dates and topics to help an employee with social anxiety
  • Modifying or allowing additional training and job coaching for an employee with a learning disability
  • Allowing short-term and long-term disability leave when required and working with employees to create an appropriate return to work program.
  • Modifying policies or rules
    • For example, allowing employees with diabetes to eat at their desks or allowing personal items at the desk of an employee with a mental illness.

If the accommodation measures implemented are not working as intended or the needs have changed, employees should work with their employer to find ways to modify their accommodations.

Creating an Inclusive Workplace

People with disabilities deserve the respect and dignity that any other employee receives. They are whole people and are not defined by their disabilities. Employers can foster an inclusive workplace by:

  • Creating and implementing inclusive workplace policies and procedures
  • Creating an Accessibility Policy and Accessibility Plan
  • Encouraging an ongoing dialogue
  • Ensuring that all employees receive AODA training
  • Implementing and participating in disability awareness and sensitivity training

Implementation of the above practices are good steps towards achieving integration and full participation of all employees.