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As someone who ticks the 'hidden or unseen disability' option on job applications and other forms, how should I go about trying to ensure that I get the support that I need to assist me with my disability in the workplace, and that 'reasonable adjustments' are made to enable me to perform my responsibilities to the best of my ability?

I am a young professional, in my third job- my first was a sandwich placement during my third year of university, so this is my second one since graduating.

My disability is that I have problems with my short-term memory. This has been something I have lived with since having surgery as a young teenager- thankfully, being in education in the UK at the time, there was plenty of support (both general, and targeted specifically to the learning difficulty). With the support of recommendations made by an Occupational Therapist, and the cooperation of my school/ college & university, I successfully completed all of my education right through to degree level.

My experience of the workplace so far, is that although I always declare my disability at interview, and ensure that my manager is aware of it, how it will affect particular aspects of my work, and how they can best assist me to overcome these difficulties- recommendations made by my Occupational Therapist, these recommendations are not always taken on-board, and my performance is impacted negatively as a result. This leads to my manager getting frustrated, and my performance deteriorating as a result of the added pressure- which continues on a downward spiral.

While I am working in the private sector (albeit, working for a military organisation, whose contracts are mainly government funded), and appreciate that the work is a results/ performance driven environment, there seems to have been a reluctance by my line managers in these last two roles I've had to take on-board the recommendations made by my Occupational Therapist. But, the fact is that the recommendations are 'reasonable' adjustments- things like giving me written instructions rather than verbal, so that I have something to refer to, rather than relying on my ability (or inability) to recall information.

The impression I have had is that my managers haven't been willing to take this on-board, as they think it will generate too much work for them, but it would be far less work than them having to talk me through what they want me to do 3 or 4 times before I remember it, rather than just giving it to me in written format...

Although they give the impression that they will be supportive when I first declare my disability, and are to begin with, as time goes by, and they see that my memory doesn't improve over time (new information will always take me longer to process), this support tends to tail off.

I work in the I.T industry- am I best to try and find another job in the public sector, where the work is at a slower pace, or is there something I can do to assist my manager to give me the support I need?

Edit suggested in a comment:

I am taking notes on the verbal information given (and have gone through 3/4 notebooks since being in the role), but the fact is, having it 'dictated' it to me takes a lot longer than them just giving me their written instructions would. I guess the nature of the work doesn't help in this regard though, i.e. working on some existing software that is so large and complex, that my manager doesn't fully understand it himself. He would expect me to be able to go away and research it for myself, but given my unfamiliarity with the system, and my memory being as poor as it is, every day I go back to it as if it's the first time I've seen it, because I can't remember the details of what I had looked at the day before...

Also, then having to organise the notes I take becomes a huge task, as I am taking the notes as the information is given- which is not necessarily in a particularly structured way, so finding the information I want from those notes is not as straightforward as it could be...

  • you need to clarify that you will get the specific 'reasonable adjustments' you need – Adel Oct 6 '15 at 15:50
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    For the verbal-only instructions, you could keep a notepad and pencil with you all the time (or a tablet if you prefer), and start writing notes as soon as the manager starts telling you to do something. Repeat back what you have written, and ask whether that is correct. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 6 '15 at 16:28
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    I like @PatriciaShanahan's approach. You could also always respond with "Could you please email that to me? I won't remember otherwise." I've often used that approach when I was in a volunteer role and multiple people would approach me with requests in an evening. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep straight who needed what, so I made sure I could get it in writing. – David K Oct 6 '15 at 16:56
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    I don't usually have memory problems, but I always write down anything that people ask me just to be sure that they did ask something and I did understood it right. Taking notes is one of the most powerfull tools in the workplace! – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Oct 6 '15 at 17:37
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    I have a coworker who seems to have similar memory issues. I can't say if it's recognized by the company or not, but she carries a pocket dictation recorder with her and records her conversations with her managers. I've seen her listen to it and write down her own todo from it without having to bother her managers. There's a small investment involved in this (the dictation recorder), but that might alleviate the situation where the manager doesn't want to take the time to write down/email instructions to you. The only thing I'd worry about in your situation with this is security protocols. – Sidney Oct 6 '15 at 18:37
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is there something I can do to assist my manager to give me the support I need?

When your manager is giving you verbal instructions, ask him to wait a second, grab a notebook, and write down his instructions as he dictates them to you.

Then, when his instructions are complete, read them back to him aloud, and correct them as needed. This will give you the "written instructions" which you indicate are keys to your success.

Follow this pattern with other recommendations from your therapists. You take the initiative, you lead, they follow. Tell your manager how well this "you talk I write" approach worked out for you, thank him for his help, and you may get him "on board" to help in a similar manner with other issues.

Rather than expecting your employer to hear the recommendations and fully take them "on-board", make it your job to take each individual recommendation, and find a way that you can get on-board with them.

If your manager isn't willing to accommodate you to this extent, or if this accommodation doesn't produce sufficient results, then it may well be time to find a less-demanding job, and to see to what extent they will accommodate you before signing on. Perhaps that job could be at the current company, or perhaps it will need to be elsewhere.

Unfortunately, your disability may mean that some jobs are simply not compatible with your current abilities. These things happen.

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    Thanks for your answer Joe- this is the approach I have taken with my current role, and while it worked well for the first 6-7 months or so that I was in the role, it seems to me that my manager has got increasingly frustrated that I continually need to do this, and has become less willing accommodate me to this extent as time has progressed (I've now been in the role for 15 months). I think it has also been the case that this approach hasn't produced sufficient results at times, and that is probably added to the frustration. – Noble-Surfer Oct 7 '15 at 8:53
  • You said, Unfortunately, your disability may mean that some jobs are simply not compatible with your current abilities.- I guess this is the conclusion I am coming to/ have come to myself. But since I enjoy using my mind/ working at something I find intellectually challenging, I guess it might be a case of trying to find a job that is comfortably within my ability, and then looking for that mental stimulation outside of the workplace? – Noble-Surfer Oct 7 '15 at 9:06
  • That is the other conclusion I have come to- which is why I titled my question Hidden/ unseen disability- how to ensure support is provided?, i.e. I know I can perform the job IF the 'reasonable adjustments' are provided (as they were in the first 6-7 months). When my manager recently told me that my performance was not at the level he was expecting, I gave examples of the work that I had completed in those first 6-7 months- when I had the support, as evidence that it was at the required level. He then said that this was more support than I should need- hence why it was no longer being given – Noble-Surfer Oct 7 '15 at 10:46
  • But the fact is that my neurological condition has been the same for years now, and is likely to remain the same for the rest of my life, so I will always need a certain level of support. I am currently looking for other jobs, as I think my relationship with my manager has reach a 'point of no return', but I want to try and learn from this experience, to ensure that I can assist my future managers to put the support I need in place... with as little 'added cost' to themselves (especially in terms of time) as possible. – Noble-Surfer Oct 7 '15 at 10:53
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    @someone2088 have you considered learning shorthand to compensate for the dictation issue? – Weckar E. May 10 '17 at 9:37
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You have a right to a workplace where you are not judged by your handicap, and that your employer will make necessary reasonable accommodations to allow you to do your job. This is far short of the requirement that the employer make all accommodations to allow you to work most effectively. So long as you are able to perform your duties with oral instructions then it is not a requirement that your employer provide you with written instructions even if this would make you much more effective.

However there may be things you can do to make yourself more effective.

Always keep a pad of paper with you. When someone gives you instructions write those instructions down on that pad of paper. Read the instructions back and confirm with them that the instructions you recorded are correct.

If you are communicating back to your managers when they correct you that that is what they told you to do, that is not going to breed a healthy relationship between you and your manager. You probably walk away from the interaction and forget all about it, but they remember the discussion, that they may have had with you several times already, and feel that you just do not get it. That is because you are not getting it because after you leave you forget that conversation happened.

So I would recommend that when you have these discussions with your manager you - write down what they say - listen with out arguing, or interrupting unless absolutely necessary - Determine what you did wrong and after the meeting adjust the instructions so that next time you perform that task you are less likely to make that mistake again - Once you understand what you could have done to avoid the problem try to figure out how you can avoid that problem in the future. If that solution include some easy task from your manager explain that to them, and ask if they would be willing to make that adjustment to help you perform better.

The employer has an obligation and an incentive to help you be successful. But you also have the obligation to do what you can minimize the amount of accommodation they need to make for you.

  • Thanks for your answer. Your first sentence: You have a right to a workplace where you are not judged by your handicap, and that your employer will make necessary reasonable accommodations to allow you to do your job. - that is what I feel is not happening at the moment... Due to the fact that my working memory is so poor, it is a "necessary reasonable adjustment" that I am given written instruction as well as verbal, since without the written instructions, I will forget at least some of what is said. I work in software development, and nature of the tasks are often quite complex- – Noble-Surfer Oct 6 '15 at 18:16
  • there is a lot to remember with each task. Since I am currently just being given the tasks verbally, I often have to go back to ask for clarity on what exactly it was that needed doing- each tasks could take anywhere from a couple of hours up to a couple of weeks to complete, depending on the complexity. – Noble-Surfer Oct 6 '15 at 18:18
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    @someone2088 You need to read the next line after it too.You just admitted that you can do the job by going back and asking questions. It seems as long as they allow you to ask questions you can do the job. Please read the entire answer I think it will help. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 6 '15 at 18:20
  • I did read the entire question- sorry, maybe I should have been clearer, but 'asking questions' was the what I meant in my original post where I said Although they give the impression that they will be supportive when I first declare my disability, and are to begin with, as time goes by, and they see that my memory doesn't improve over time (new information will always take me longer to process), this support tends to tail off. When I say "they are supportive to begin with", that's in answering my questions, but I guess because I have more questions due to not being able to remember, – Noble-Surfer Oct 6 '15 at 18:35
  • they eventually get fed up of my asking- and that support is then no longer provided. Which brings me back to needing the support as it's been prescribed by my O.T. i.e. written information. – Noble-Surfer Oct 6 '15 at 18:36
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Get clear buy-in early on, minute it, and hold them to it consistently.

When you get your OT recommendations, sit down with your manager and go through each of them in detail. Agree together, in the meeting, detailed written minutes specifying which of these the manager considers 'reasonable' and how they will be achieved. If they don't consider a recommendation reasonable, ask them to explain in their own words why not, and write them verbatim.

It's far more important at the end of this meeting that the outcome is crystal clear than that it is in your favour. Most likely they aren't willing to commit to one or two, and it is better that this is clear to all parties from the outset and in hindsight.

Then, over the next few days and weeks, keep track of when the agreed points are not met and when they are. The easiest way might be using a notepad for every time you're given things verbally (used for both transcription, as a solution and also as a record, e.g. "verbal instructions, manager left immediately").

Review every week/month/fortnight (in your regular meetings with your manager or if you don't have any, set some up) how these are going. Ask your manager how things have gone. Make sure you note "I've noticed several times X hasn't happened" if they haven't. Thank your boss for writing clear specs by email (through not profusely). Agree notes in the meeting to avoid later disagreement (because you will always be disbelieved on differences of recollection).

The point is to establish the relationship in which reasonable adjustments are basic courtesy, not concessions, and to keep a clear paper trail over where the business has failed so they aren't tempted to pretend that even though they've been ever so accommodating (when they haven't), still you've not met expectations (quite possibly because they haven't).

If there are performance questions, reflect on them and remind them that if they relate in any way to the adjustments that they are refusing to or failing to make, then they need to sort their bit out first. On the other hand, if they are genuinely making the adjustments, your records will tell you when you know you need to take the performance concerns seriously on their own merit.

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Your managers have their own cognitive issues, which may not rise to the level of a disability but are nevertheless real and something you need to accommodate. It would be difficult to remember, all day every day, that they need to do things a bit differently for one employee.

There is a significant difference between education and work. Someone whose primary objective in interacting with you is to help you learn will have an easier time remembering your cognitive issues, and your occupational therapist's instructions, than someone whose objective is to get some software development done.

I suggest two courses of action:

  1. To the maximum extent possible, bring things under your own control. As already discussed, keep a notebook or other recording device, and take down everything your managers tell you, even if it is only in passing. You may need to consult your occupational therapist for further ideas, adjusted to your condition, for bringing things under your own control. You may need to type the notes into a searchable file so that you can check whether you already have an answer before re-asking a question you have forgotten asking.
  2. For anything you cannot bring under your own control, politely and gently remind them of the issue every time your needs are not being met. That way, the accommodations are more likely to become habit.
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I suffer with hidden disabilities and although to date I've not needed any workplace help, I do have a little bit of experience I can share.

With my disabilities, I am officially diagnosed and as such covered completely by the Equality Act 2010. I reckon based on your details, you would also be covered but I am not a legal expert.

Under the Equality Act, you have a right to "reasonable adjustments" to be made by your employer. Your employer does not have duty to suggest adjustments. So, if you have any suggestions, these need to come from you. From your question, I believe you have done this and its been rejected - a bad move on their part given your legal rights.

There are plenty of resources for you to help you make an informed decision on what to do next. The two I recommend as ACAS as they can get involved in any employment disputes and Mind.

Have a read through this page on the Mind website. I believe you will find it relevant and there is a letter template on there for you to provide the details of what reasonable adjustments you may need.

My recommendation is if you haven't already put your reasonable adjustments in writing sending copies to your manager and HR department. If you do not get a reasonable response to this then potentially they are breaching your rights. ACAS would be good to assist with this.

A union would also be a fantastic resource if you are a member. This type of thing is right up their alley.

Good luck!

  • Thanks for your answer. My difficulties are legally recognised as a 'disability', although given that they are quite unusual, and don't fall into a particular category (i.e. dyslexia, etc), they come under 'hidden/ unseen disability. I have been informed by my Occupational Therapist about my right to 'reasonable adjustments', and she wrote a letter to my manager when I started my role stating the nature of my disability, how it affects me cognitively, and the level and type of support I would require in order to ensure I performed to the best of my ability. – Noble-Surfer Oct 8 '15 at 8:27
  • Although additional support has been provided by my manager, it has not been provided in the way my O.T. stated it would be required in her letter, and so it has fallen short of the level of support I need- negatively impacting my performance as a result... – Noble-Surfer Oct 8 '15 at 8:32
  • @someone2088 It's a difficult one because handled wrongly, your manager is always going to be after your blood. I would suggest that you formally remind the company of what you needs are in writing as mentioned above. If they ignore or do not make the relevant adjustments then under the Equality Act 2010, you can take this further unless they have a good reason as to why they cannot make the changes. As I say though, not a legal expert so I would suggest a conversation with ACAS. – raining hail Oct 8 '15 at 8:40

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