Reprinted from the "Workplace: Disclosure and Accommodations" issue of Visions Journal, 2018, 13 (4), p. 4
I simply adore the image on the cover of this issue; it’s a perfect metaphor. Disclosing an invisible disability is still, sadly, a somewhat risky act and it takes courage for an employee to raise their hand and say what they need and why. They can feel self-conscious, different, vulnerable. That’s all connoted for me in the differently-coloured umbrella being raised up. By the same measure, disclosure is usually accompanied by a request for accommodation—small changes or simple tools that can make success at work easier. Accommodations done well provide protection and support (think: umbrella) and are positive and hopeful (think: yellow?). (Okay, okay, it’s possible I’m reading way too much into a piece of artwork...)
Speaking of visuals, you might have noticed we’ve been featuring a lot of real photos of our contributors in Visions. Unfortunately, not so for this issue. Workplace-themed Visions are always the issues with the greatest need for anonymity. Sometimes the anonymity is needed because an experiential writer is worried about disclosing a health problem in the article and being potentially discriminated against in the future. Sometimes anonymity is needed because the writer is discussing a range of less-than-ideal responses by an employer who is not there to defend its actions. So anonymity hasn’t changed much over the years. The good news is I have noticed more employees trying to disclose and recognizing prejudice faster. And it’s getting easier to find good-news stories.
We are about to face an unparalleled shortage of workers when baby boomers retire. Mental health and substance use disorders are very common and because they are treatable, a majority of people experiencing them are already in or will soon be joining the workforce. If you are an employer and think you can “screen” employees with health conditions and disabilities out of your workplace, I’ll tell you right now: you can’t. In fact, you may even be triggering or worsening them if you have a psychologically unhealthy work environment. So check your biases about what a good worker looks like, implement the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, and do the right thing around your duty to inquire and duty to accommodate. And remember accommodations aren’t scary. Sometimes they can be as easy—and as helpful—as passing someone an umbrella.