Hidden Disabilities

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2019 Community Conference and Seminar
8 November 2018

In the Community & Voluntary Sector which includes care provision, charities, not for profit organisations and housing associations – long term health conditions which incorporate hidden disabilities is a subject that comes up regularly in the workplace. Community Sector staff who are not aware that they meet the definition of Disability in the Equality Act 2010 ( as amended) fail to realise that the Act can be used to protect them against unfair practices and poor treatment of health issues that come under the banner of disability, visible or hidden.

We are all aware of the person in a wheelchair that is the recognised symbol of disability everywhere, from supermarket car parks to public transport to workplaces. People believe that “real” disability can be seen and that anyone who is not visibly impaired is not really disabled. Time and again the words “you don’t look disabled” are used to show disbelief.

What about those members who have a hidden disability and go about their lives without telling their colleagues or employers? Some of these might be low paid workers who care about the individuals they support and may attempt to conceal the effects of an impairment in order to “fit in” or to simply maintain employment. Without a higher number of union members identifying as disabled, the ability to start and run strong campaigns that challenge disability discrimination becomes limited. This includes the ability to organise in workplaces and improve rights for disabled people.

The “hidden” part of invisible disabilities means there is some urgency for creating awareness and changing attitudes. Changes often start with simple conversations that encourage understanding. Removing the social stigma involved with revealing an invisible disability and having colleagues, employers and others try to be more accommodating and accepting of the unique challenges faced can also help create a more inclusive society.

This conference calls upon the Community Service Group Executive to:-

1. Work closely with the National Disabled Members Committee to gather information and advice on hidden disability.

2. Provide guidance to branches with Community members and reps on how to negotiate for the rights of members with hidden disabilities to ensure members are treated fairly by their employers.

3. Advertise to branches with Community members and reps ‘Proving Disability and Reasonable Adjustments – A Guide to evidence under the Equality Act 2010’ newly published guidance by Unison as a helpful source of information.

4. Provide a specific guide for reps to use with employers within the Community Sector to explain the term ‘hidden disabilities’.

5. Arrange for articles to be included within UNISON Community publications sent out to members and activists about hidden disabilities and what they are, to enable members to self-identify as having a disability.