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Invisible Disabilities as They Relate to Employment

Invisible Disabilities in the Workplace

For the purposes of this article, let’s use the Invisible Disabilities Association’s (IDA) definition of invisible disabilities. They are defined as “…a physical, mental or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities that is invisible to the onlooker.”

Examples of Invisible Disabilities

Invisible disabilities involve an aspect of an individual that cannot be seen. This can include either a physical condition, such as a problem with an internal organ (like heart or liver), an overall condition like chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis (MS) or fibromyalgia, or a behavioral issue, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. In some instances, it isn’t until a person moves or speaks that an onlooker might think that maybe the person has a disability.

Invisible disabilities can be more dramatic and devastating than visible disabilities. Occasionally, others may think less of a person’s abilities and that the disability will negatively affect a person’s ability to do a particular job, when in fact the disability is completely irrelevant.

How does this relate to getting and keeping a job? Or having a career? The best answer is: it depends.

Much depends on the individual’s level of self-awareness and what they do to manage their condition. This involves taking medications as prescribed, having contingency plans in place in case a flare-up occurs, following through on plans, and being certain to communicate to all those who need to know about these plans.

Telling Your Employer

The first issue to address is much to tell a prospective employer. If a person knows him- or herself and their prescribed medication works reliably, there may be no need to bring up the disability. On the other hand, not disclosing the existence of a disability makes it impossible to take advantage of any accommodations the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be able to provide.

In order for special accommodations for a disability to be honored, the employer has to know about the disability up front. Also, the accommodation has to be reasonable and directly relate to helping the person perform the job more effectively. An example of an accommodation for a person with an invisible disability is having time ranges for starting and/or ending the workday.

Managing Perceptions

The second issue is, once a person gets the job, they must manage the perception that the invisible disability will affect job performance. This may or may not be the case. If the boss doesn’t know about the disability, it may affect future job performance evaluations.

Then there is the social stigma attached to disabilities, especially mental/behavioral health issues. According to an article by Alecia Santuzzi in the magazine, Psychology Today, “Some people with invisible disabilities might be willing to conceal their conditions and forego accommodations to avoid being treated differently or negatively by others.” Furthermore, “persons with invisible disabilities risk the additional stigma of being viewed as someone who is falsely seeking personal gain.”

When invisible disabilities are involved with a job search or in keeping a job, it’s always good to have help. RISE is an agency that has remarkable success with programs for developmental disabilities. To start the process, reach out to RISE at and fill out a contact form. Things will move rather quickly from there.