Published on Linkedin August 23rd, 2023
This summer I have been extremely heartend by the significant number of organizations reaching out to me to speak about invisible disability, mental health and neurodiversity in the workplace.
As someone who not only speaks about invisible disabilities, but who has also dealt with the same issues in a very unforgiving industry, I’ve seen a positive shift in the business world over the past couple of decades and even more so the past few years.
Here’s a short timeline of resources related to disability at work:
20-30 Years ago: Almost no one spoke of invisible disabilities and even fewer managers understood the nature of chronic conditions. You were either sick or you were well. If you were sick you were expected to go to a doctor to get “cured” of your ailment immediately so you could return to work. If you were well then you were expected to be 100 percent at all times. At work, there was no concept of a world with long-lasting, unpredictable and invisible medical conditions.
Twelve years ago – When I first began speaking professionally about working with chronic illness there was certainly some interest in the subject, but it was mostly “academic”. Organizations had no budget or resources in place to educate their staff about chronic conditions or invisible disabilities. Pioneers like myself were expected to speak for free, despite the fact we were essentially helping organizations with everything from recruitment, retention, and leadership communication to building more efficent workflow. There was no understanding that this topic was essentially about business and not charity.
Seven years ago: Organizations began integrating DEI into their organizations, creating leadership positions to deal with diversity, equity and inclusion and allocating budget resources to those areas.
Three years ago to present: A rapid rise in Employee Resource Groups, which now had their own budgets to bring in outside speakers and experts on various topics related to diversity. These groups not only acted as a way to bring together people with similar challenges, they also allowed to examine and suggest changes in the workplace that would reduce stigma and promote fairness.
Even today the work still isn’t done, but there has been significant progress. This Fall I’m as busy as I’ve ever been, providing insight and real life stories to organizations about working with invisible disabilities (including mental health and neurodiversity). I salue the organizations and Employee Resource Groups that are putting in time and effort to make the workplace better for people with invisible disabilities.