As our ability to isolate and define illnesses that have long been invisible to the naked eye, we are faced more and more often with the challenge of how to handle people who are ill, yet don’t appear so. Many conditions, such as Lyme Disease for example, offer no visible symptoms that are readily recognizable, yet the fatigue and mental confusion these sufferers deal with daily is real, and oftentimes debilitating.

In the workplace, this presents specific problems. How is an employer to know when an employee is trying to get out of working and when they are really in trouble? If a worker doesn’t inform their manager or the business owner, this can lead to many frustrations and misunderstandings, and even a lawsuit if the situation isn’t handled well.

The term “disability” is often used to describe an ongoing physical challenge. It can be just a bump in life, or a huge mountain that has created massive changes and loss. Care needs to be taken to ensure that this term is not used in a manner that implies the sufferer is of lesser value than anyone else; each person has a right to expect to be treated with dignity and respect as a person with a purpose and value no matter what they might be facing.

Employers need to keep in mind that just because a person has a disability does NOT mean they are disabled. Many people who live with challenges of this sort are still fully active in their homelife, work, and even sports. At the end of the day, the loss of energy can be debilitating, but they are still able to perform their duties.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a person with a disability is a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Has a record of such an impairment
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment

The term “invisible disability” refers to symptoms such as:

  • Debilitating pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Hearing and vision impairments
  • Brain injuries and cognitive dysfunctions
  • Mental health disorders and learning disabilities

Unfortunately, people often judge each other by what they see, and if a person looks ‘normal’ then they must not have any physical or mental issues to contend with. In the case of the workplace, employers must take great care to treat all workers with the same amount of respect, even while having to take into account a disability, whether apparent or not. All employees must be able to make adjustments for the things that they deal with and must not be hindered from caring for themselves within a reasonable scope.

The bottom line is that everyone is different, with varying challenges and needs, abilities and attributes. Whether we struggle with a disability or not, we have a right to expect fair treatment, and the law has been written to guarantee those rights.

The i am . . . just human movement was started in May 2017 by Judge Rachel and Dr. Dorsha to provoke people to step away from the labels used to define individuals. This movement encourages people to build relationships on the foundation of unconditional love.

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