Why Disability Mentoring Works for Hidden Disability

I have a role in the workplace to offer insights on disability. I regularly give input to "think tanks" and presentations on ME and on "hidden disability" in the workplace. One of the most powerful ways that an employer can acts on behalf of an employee with a hidden disability (e.g. ME, dyslexia, mental health problem etc) is to assign a more senior member of staff (voluntarily) as their "mentor". The positive effects are often startling for someone disabled. They may include full recovery of self-esteem, renewed confidence, promotion and ongoing "wind in the sails", even in outside personal relationships. The pair meet in informal situations, like cafes near work, once a fortnight for a year and the more senior employee provides encouragement, morale support and information on how to get promotion. Disabled employees (particularly those with ME) respond dramatically to any level of support, so proactive support is always in the employer's interests. Most large organisations are still on a learning curve on maximising equality for people with hidden disabilities, through fully implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, through their own disability advisory groups and through schemes like disability mentoring. At my presentations on mentoring, I make the statements below which help employers to gain more insight into the needs of their staff with hidden disabilities :

My Statement
  • Disability is a hidden, invisible state - a wholly different state from that of the able-bodied.
  • Hidden disability creates a wholly different set of tasks, challenges, priorities, objectives , needs and stresses in the workplace (in addition to those of an able bodied employee).
  • Mentoring succeeds in opening up and sharing those areas that are normally invisible and unshared (the unique burden of the mentee).
  • It acts to relieve the lack of credibility, lack of attention, social stigma, lack of sympathy, lack of acceptance that are the particular burden of hidden disability.
  • Mentoring authenticates and releases the low self-confidence and stresses related to those areas which act as an obstacle to career development and progression.

See My Workplace Disability Diary and Lessons Learnt about disability being "a process"- click here

Visible and Invisible Stresses in the Workplace

Concerns of able bodied employees
Concerns of employees with disabilities
Concerns of employees with hidden disabilities
Success and survival

Self development
Reaching one's objectives
Reaching one's objectives
Reaching one's objectives
Getting on well with people
Making relationships
Being accepted
Managing and being managed
Getting a kind and understanding manager
Responsibilities on diversity
Qualifying for adjustments

Getting equipment
Needing equipment and getting it

Health and Safety
Health and Safety

Travel and mobility problems
Justifying hidden condition to managers

Competing equally
Appearing capable

Over- compensating for disability
Pacing to compensate for disability

Handling discrimination in staff appraisals etc and understanding the Disability Discrimination Act
Coping (e.g. understanding one's condition, e.g. living alone, shopping, finances)

Coping (e.g. specialist appointments, treatments, shopping, diets, sleep, living alone etc)
Dietary, mobility, low energy, drug or sleep problems

Difficulty interpreting the Disability Discrimination Act on hidden disability and handling discrimination on staff appraisals etc

Lack of credibility/acceptance of condition due to its lack of visibility

Stigma or rejection, lack of confidence, sense of inadequacy

Lack of understanding of disability or even hostility or disbelief of the disability in general

Emotional injury and isolation

Mentoring is very effective in the area of hidden disability in opening up, sharing and authenticating what is unshared and invisible.