Our wellness partner ICAS looks at the role employers can play in supporting workers with unseen or invisible disabilities.

Do you know how invisible disabilities can affect your people? And how you can support affected workers? Joash Narainsamy, Manager Global Brand & Marketing from our wellness partner ICAS World, a Lyra Health Company1  explains more about this all-important issue. 

Everyone with a disability or impairment is different, with varying challenges, needs, abilities and attributes. Unfortunately, people often judge others simply by what they see, and conclude a person can or cannot do something by the way they look. This attitude can be equally frustrating for those who may appear unable but are perfectly capable, and those who seem able, but actually are not. Therefore, a disability cannot be determined solely on whether a person uses or requires assistive devices or equipment.

An “invisible,” “non-visible,” “hidden,” “non-apparent,” or "unseen" disability is any physical, mental, or emotional impairment that can go largely unnoticed. An invisible disability can include but is not limited to:

  • cognitive impairment and brain injury

  • autism – across the spectrum

  • chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, chronic pain and fibromyalgia

  • being deaf and/or hard of hearing

  • blindness and/or low vision

  • anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many more. 

We understand the body as always changing, so disability and chronic illnesses may fluctuate with periods of relapses and remission throughout one’s life. There are thousands of illnesses, disorders, diseases, dysfunctions, congenital disabilities, impairments, and injuries that can be debilitating. Therefore, all conditions that are debilitating are taken into consideration when we talk about invisible disabilities.

Supporting invisible disabilities within the workplace

Employees with invisible disabilities typically do not disclose their disability because they are worried about being stigmatised, discriminated against or excluded. By not disclosing their invisible disabilities, employees are often not able to ask for reasonable accommodations to help them be more engaged and effective in the workplace.

To work towards building trust, employees need to see their leadership team’s active commitment to their people with invisible disabilities, along with the genuine support in the workplace from colleagues and organisational systems.

Diversity or disability awareness is key to improving inclusion in any organisation. Organisations can develop awareness campaigns geared toward creating support and a basic understanding of invisible disabilities. As well as this employees can be educated on ways in which they can identify and make allowances for other employees’ disabilities, whether they are visible or not.

Disability awareness training goes a long way in challenging assumptions and changing perceptions. Organisations can use employee training to foster the development of cognitive empathy to help employees build skills to better understand those with an invisible disability or attempt to “walk in someone else’s shoes”. Both activities can remove negative perceptions or biases.

Leadership teams can work with HR to ensure that the organisation has a disability and reasonable accommodations policy, and procedures for supporting employees with invisible disabilities. As a part of the awareness campaign, organisations should work to educate employees on the availability of reasonable accommodations, how the organisation can help, and the process to follow when disclosing an invisible disability and requesting support.

Of course, employee assistance programmes (EAP) can play a role in helping employers support those with invisible disabilities and help provide managers and employers get the training they need. 

Supporting employees with invisible disabilities is of the utmost importance, so thanks for your insight, Joash. If you’d like to find out more, view the ICAS page on our website or contact your MAXIS GBN representative to find out how ICAS can support you and your employees.2


1  ICAS INTERNATIONAL HOLDINGS LIMITED incorporated and registered in England whose registered office is at 85 Gresham Street, London, England, EC2V 7NQ
2  MAXIS GBN may receive fees, commissions and/or other remuneration from third parties in connection with the services we carry out for you.