17 Reasons Folks with Hidden Disabilities are Assets in the Workplace

24 May

I am so thrilled to have my own business and all the flexibility that comes from being self-employed. I’ve managed to become an entrepreneur both despite and because of my hidden disabilities, which are: osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease (with a sitting disability), fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and it may be safe to say now I’ve also got post-COVID syndrome.

But it took time to get here. My last career was ad copywriter, where I worked when I got my fibromyalgia diagnosis. After I quit to focus on my business as a speaker, I worked a number of side hustles to make ends meet until my business was able to sustain me on its own. These included being a bartender, a substitute teacher, and a receptionist. I’ve also served on multiple government boards.

Yes, my diagnoses made all these positions uniquely challenging, but they also helped me be a greater asset to the businesses I worked for.

Those of us with hidden disabilities, which can be cognitive, mental health, and/or physical (like chronic illness or pain), are actually great assets in the workplace, for a number of reasons.

I’ll start with the reasons I’m most familiar with: my own.

No assumptions. I keep front-of-mind the concept that you never know what someone is going through. So if someone is late, leaves a meeting early, seems aloof, or isn’t participating, I’m not going to take it personally, judge them, or think I know what’s going on. I’m also not going to assume this is representative of their everyday work ethic. I’ll think the best of them and extend the grace I often receive myself.

Kindness. This is an extension of “no assumptions.” I will be kind to others even if I’m not getting from them what I expect or hope for. Everyone can have an “off” day sometimes, or someone could be going through something truly hard and even be on the verge of tears.

Acceptance. I won’t be thinking or acting like I’m better than anyone else, and I won’t be perpetuating any stigma or bias. I know too well what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that, and I just won’t take part.

Leveraging strengths as well as weaknesses. I have unique challenges, and to compensate I have gotten very familiar with my strengths as an employee and I make sure they’re always shining. As for my weaknesses, I’m quite familiar with them as well, and I’ve figured out some creative workarounds over the years.

Creative problem solving. Not only do I have workarounds for my weaknesses, but I’ve gotten so good at figuring out my own accommodations and modifications for my disabilities, that my creative-problem-solving “muscle” is like body-builder strong! It’s just how my brain works now.

Communication. I’m an outstanding communicator because it’s especially important for me to do so. I know how to ask for help, and I know how to give easy ways to help me be my best. I’ve learned how to explain, without making folks uncomfortable, what’s going on when my symptoms are visible. I’m skilled at clarity within nuance.

Boosting morale. I know people are good. I know people love to help and feel needed. So I have zero issues asking for help and giving clear ways to support me in collaboration so that we can all be our best. It makes people feel good! Especially when I pour out the gratitude.

Courage. “Coming out” as someone with a disability is hard. Seeking modifications, accommodations, or even just a moment of help is hard. Stigma is rampant. It takes courage to live as openly disabled and actively seek and use all the assistance available to us. I’ve got that courage, and it’s ready to go in any other situation where courage is useful, like sharing a constructive opposing view or sharing an innovative idea.

Keen to be valuable. Having extra challenges to overcome in the workplace makes me all the more grateful that I can work at all. So I don’t take a job for granted, and I value my role as much as I’d like to be valued. And I’m quite keen to prove how valuable I am, because I have those negative assumptions about disability to overcome.

Hard worker. My whole life, it seems I’m always “pushing through” something, whether it’s pain, fatigue, brain fog, or even sadness. I don’t even think about it anymore, I just naturally push. So you won’t catch me slacking if I’ve got a hangnail. I’m always going to do my very best and work hard.

Unique perspective. We’ve all got a unique perspective. Mine includes my history living with disability and all that entails. I have insights, ideas, and suggestions that you might not have access to from anyone else.

Just a few reasons others in my “tribe” add great value to the workplace…

  • diversity of communication styles
  • diversity of problem-solving skills
  • sympathy and empathy
  • people skills
  • clinical knowledge
  • observation skills

What are some other ways folks with disabilities are incredible assets in the workplace? Please comment!

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