Raising awareness about invisible disabilities

December 2023

Samira is a senior project manager with many years of experience working in government. She has applied for some workplace adjustments due to hearing difficulties and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with a mix of positive and negative experiences.

Samira says she has always been provided with a ‘mini mic’ to help cut out background noise and make it easier for her to participate in conversations and meetings. But in some situations, her workplace adjustments are agreed to in principle but forgotten in practice.

“I'm not fully deaf, I don't sound like I've got a speech impairment but I'm not functioning like other people who have full hearing. Because my disability is invisible, it’s like people sometimes don’t really believe it, or forget to consider what it means for me.”

For example, with hotdesking the norm post-COVID, Samira asked to have a desk that allowed her to see people when they approach her. “They respected that in principle but not in practice. People in my own team would sit at the desk identified for me, and my manager didn’t step in or act. It shouldn't be on my shoulders to ask people to move. I don't want to be seen as being precious, but that desk was marked out for me, and it should have been maintained.”

Samira says meetings are often arranged without considering the venue’s accessibility or allowing her to choose a seat that will allow her to participate. Samira has a sign on the back of her laptop that says “I have hearing loss, please face me when speaking” to remind people and suggests this sort of simple resource might be useful for workplaces to provide.

Samira says people with disabilities – particularly invisible ones – are required to do a lot of self-advocacy. “There’s a lot of onus on the person with disability to do all the work, and an assumption that they know exactly what they need and how to get it, which isn’t always the case”.

Samira has found this particularly in relation to her recent ADHD diagnosis. ADHD affects her executive functioning skills, meaning she sometimes struggles with things like planning, organising her thoughts and writing. She has sought support with her executive functioning and writing skills, and in a previous role she was able to access a writing coach.

When she asked her current manager about further coaching, the manager said they supported it in principle but weren’t sure what the ‘next person up’ would say about it. Samira believes ADHD is “a bit of a new space for workplaces, so there's still some scepticism about it”. She has now been approved for some coaching sessions, but needs to source and arrange it herself. Samira suggests that while it’s important for the person to have a say in the resource provided, it would be useful for employers to have a shortlist of providers.

Similarly, while the Commonwealth Job Access funding for team and manager disability awareness training is sometimes available as part of the workplace adjustment, again it is up to the person with disability to arrange this.

“Why does that all land on the employee? It should be a joint responsibility.”

Samira also wants others to be aware that if a request for workplace adjustment funding through the Commonwealth Job Access scheme is declined or inadequate, it is still worth exploring options available through their own department.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual

Information alert

For more workplace adjustment information, NSW Government managers and employees can visit the Public Service Commission website or contact their Diversity & Inclusion, Work, Health & Safety or HR teams. You may also wish to reach out to your Disability Employee Network (DEN).

If you have trouble accessing workplace adjustments or experience disability discrimination at work, please contact Anti-Discrimination NSW on 1800 670 812.

Last updated:

01 Dec 2023

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