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Hidden disabilities

8 October 2016
flash cards with statements about hidden conditions
© Natasha Hirst

Hidden disabilities and work

The impact of long term health conditions and hidden disabilities is an increasingly topical subject throughout the union movement. From discussions with union reps and officers there are a number of key concerns around how to identify and support workers who meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 but may not realise this or wish to self declare as a disabled person.

This is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, workers who are unaware that they meet criteria under the Equality Act 2010 will not know that they have rights under the Act and therefore cannot exercise them. As the ‘Insight’ research demonstrates, many disabled people experiencing ill-treatment at work that is related to their disability are not making the connection that their disability or health condition is the cause of ill-treatment (1). Thus, people are not empowered to challenge and resolve these difficulties.

Secondly, an issue for the union movement as a whole, is that if people do not self identify as being disabled, there is a difficulty in then organising people politically. Without a decent number of union members identifying and self organising, the ability to lead strong campaigns that challenge discrimination becomes limited.  This includes the ability to organise in workplaces to improve policy and practice as well as the capacity to influence decision makers and Governments to protect and improve rights for disabled people.

A man listens in an audience
© Natasha Hirst

Of all the themes arising from discussion over the last few months, hidden disabilities and self declaration is the most prevalent. Concerns are centred around employers who are failing to understand the impact of hidden disabilities and the need for appropriate reasonable adjustments and the fact that workers are unaware that they can challenge these poor practices and discriminatory attitudes. A number of motions have been passed at conferences across trade unions and the regions of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) that aim to identify and support workers with hidden disabilities. There is certainly an appetite for generating more research and gathering further evidence in this area.

(1) Fevre R. et al, 2011. Insight into ill-treatment in the Workplace: patterns, causes and solutions.