This Disability History Month (18 November – 18 December) the focus has turned to non-visible disabilities – impairments that are not immediately obvious to others. Exploring how we might re-think disability in a work environment, our film series ‘More than meets the eye’ tells the personal stories of staff members’ lived experiences of non-visible conditions, how they have navigated barriers and disability stigmas in the workplace, and why visible and non-visible disabilities are not always mutually exclusive.
The first film in the series introduced Camilla Mills, therapy assistant practitioner, and Ras Kahai, cardiorespiratory dietitian, who discussed the ‘disclosure dilemma’: the decision to conceal or reveal a disability in a work setting, faced by many disabled people as they navigate fears of stigma, judgement and discrimination.
In the second film, we meet Mark Townsend, diagnostic bookings administration assistant, and Robert Craig, director of operations and partnerships and executive sponsor of Royal Brompton and Harefield’s staff Disability and Wellness Network (DAWN).
Mark’s loss of mobility left him no choice but to work from home full-time. But the impact that his physical disability has had on his emotional wellbeing has been similarly restrictive and unpredictable. Drawing on the uncertainty attached to how his physical condition will affect his mind, thoughts and emotions on any given day, Mark explains:
“The mental side – that’s another game, that is – because you don’t know what you’re going to be thinking of when you go to sleep or how you’re going to feel when you wake up in the morning. I know how I’m going to be with my legs in the morning because I know I can’t walk that far. People don’t realise the mental health attachment that comes with all this.
“I wasn’t sleeping, it was awful, I was frightened of losing my job, [I was] looking after my family.”
After joining the Disability and Wellness Network, Mark found that opening up about his lived experience as a disabled person was an experience shared by many.
“It was great to meet other people that were feeling the same way as me,” he says.
As the executive sponsor of the DAWN, Robert Craig has been working with the network to ensure the work environment does not put disabled people at a disadvantage.
In the film, he explains: “There are reasonable adjustments we can make to the working environment that will make a world of difference to people who can’t work in the way that some of their other colleagues can and I’d encourage managers who have [disabled] colleagues to think about the consequences of our work environment and the working conditions for people with disabilities.”