One in five Australians live with a disability. For many, these conditions are largely invisible. This includes the one in five young Australians with mental health conditions, over 3 million people living with chronic pain, approximately 3.6 million people with hearing loss and many other conditions.
While mental health has understandably become a much-talked about issue due to the impacts of COVID-19, it is important that we address all invisible disabilities. Workplaces have an important role to play in creating safe spaces for people to disclose their conditions.
Each year, the Australian Human Rights Commission receives its highest volume of complaints about disability discrimination. In fear of this type of discrimination, many prospective employees who have a hidden disability, may choose not to disclose it when applying for jobs, putting them at a disadvantage in the workplace and society.
The United Nation's annual International Day of People with Disability takes place on December 3 and acts as a call to action for all people to challenge the way we think about disability. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people within this community and celebrate their achievements and contributions. This year the day will encourage us all to consider that not all disabilities are visible.
It's important that Australia removes physical, technological and attitudinal barriers for people with disability. This starts with removing stigma and leading with compassion. It can be impossible to know if someone lives with an invisible disability and they may not be comfortable sharing their diagnosis yet, so if someone is not acting in an expected manner, remember that they may be dealing with a condition or restriction that you are unaware of.
If someone does disclose an invisible disability to you, listen and learn about what they are going through. Only offer advice if it's sought. After all, it's highly likely they have already tried a number of avenues to manage their condition. Alongside helplines, charities and associations, Disability Employment Services providers, like atWork Australia, also support people living with disability by helping them gain equal access to employment, and help business become more inclusive and accessible for all.
Only by empowering people living with invisible disability to feel comfortable in disclosing their conditions and enabling them to find the support they need; can we truly start to address this hidden reality for so many Australians.