When asked about tackling disability issues most people will address the physical accessibility of a building. This is because the mental image people have of a disabled person is a wheelchair user although they will broaden it to someone with reduced mobility or dexterity. Adaptions are considered to offset the issue of a physical disability of this nature to resolve those physical restrictions.
Some disabilities are not as obvious and when they impact on other areas of ability companies can find it harder to adapt because it requires a different approach to work. Hearing and visual impairments are types of disability that companies struggle with. However, the difficulties really start to occur when the disabilities are mental in nature, which are often considered hidden disabilities.
The reason for this is simple. Physical impairments are relatively easy to understand. The same job will be done the same way but with some form of assistance to offset the physical restrictions. A lot of work has been done to break down barriers and encourage people to see the individual as a person with a disability rather than define them by their disability. However, this has not been so successful with hidden disabilities.
There are still a lot of assumptions made and stigma attached to mental health and learning disabilities. Unless someone knows a friend or family member with this type of disability they will not normally take the time to try and understand it. Without that understanding, people fall back on very strong stereotypes. Learning differences like Dyslexia, Asperger’s Syndrome and Autistic Spectrum Disorder are not commonly understood and the assumption is made that they are either an excuse for laziness, a polite label for low intelligence or the individual is going to start acting like Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman”.
The perception of these hidden disabilities needs to change from being less capable to being simply different. Talking to the person about how their disability affects them and what they need will help to prevent false assumptions. Companies need to recognise the benefits that differently abled people can bring and this will help to positively address these hidden disabilities.
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