Just because my disability is invisible, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there

Published : Fri 3rd Dec

Siân Neal, a Resourcing Specialist here at the National Trust, has been part of the organisation for eight years. As someone diagnosed with invisible disabilities, Siân is passionate about raising awareness for those with disabilities of all kinds. And, as a member of the Workability Network, she’s helping us to become a more inclusive and equitable employer for our colleagues across the UK. Here, Siân shares her experience working at the Trust as someone with a disability and tell us about the impact of the Workability Network.

I’ve been working at the National Trust for eight years as a Resourcing Specialist, looking after the operational areas in the regions. I have three disabilities: juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, and degenerative disc disease. All of them are what you could call ‘invisible disabilities.’

It can feel extra hard when your disabilities are invisible. People can forget about them. One of mine, for example, causes a lot of nerve pain, which can fluctuate and physically move throughout my body day to day. It can be completely unnoticeable to everyone else.

Though some days are good, other days are bad. Illness doesn’t look a certain way, so it can be hard for people to understand why I may be able to do some things one day but be unable to do them the next.

That’s why I want to be more vocal about my disabilities. It’s important that, when decisions are being made in the workplace, people are mindful of colleagues with all disabilities.

How the National Trust is trying to make a change

Equity in the workplace is all about fairness. Having certain adjustments made at work or being given slightly different treatment to some of my colleagues in certain aspects doesn’t give me an advantage, nor does it disadvantage anyone else. It simply creates a level playing field.

Though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time working for the Trust, I don’t feel we’re as equitable as we can be as an organisation. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, which is something we need to be honest about.

However, we’re making significant efforts to ensure our organisation is a more inclusive employer.

Achieving equity won’t empower those with disabilities, as such, but would go a long way to enabling us to feel as though we’re on equal footing with the rest of our colleagues, which is hugely important.

Introducing the Workability Network

Recently, the Trust has made real efforts to make sure it’s representing itself accurately, fairly, and authentically. There are some really positive things happening right now, which is brilliant. Even small, seemingly minor changes can collectively make a huge difference to an organisation of this size.

The Workability Network is an employee network for colleagues with all kinds of visible or hidden disabilities to connect, share their stories and experiences, raise awareness for different disabilities, and implement improvements across the organisation to ensure it’s more inclusive to everyone.

Nothing like it existed when I joined the National Trust eight years ago. The Workability Network has been a really useful means of talking to colleagues who have disabilities and similar experiences in the workplace.

How, collectively, we’re driving the change we want to see

Being part of the Resourcing Team, I’m able to take the conversations, discussions and points raised by my peers in the Workability Network and bring them into my day-to-day work, where I can confidently say, ‘We need to be doing more about this…’
Sharing stories and first-hand experiences in such settings is playing a fundamental role in raising awareness amongst colleagues about the issues facing those with disabilities.

Everyone within the network has their own role within the organisation. If we all do the same – taking our conversations and learnings into our respective areas and using them to improve them – the impact and knock-on effect that would have across the Trust could be huge.

That’s how we, as individuals, can help shift the culture to become more inclusive. The impact of the Workability Network can be really, really powerful. Lots of little changes here or there can collectively have a huge impact.

Why it’s exciting to be part of the change

It feels like we’re on an upward curve in terms of how we, as an organisation, approach inclusivity regarding colleagues with disabilities. You can feel we’re improving things, and that changes are being made for the better.
It’s encouraging to see the Trust doing all we’re doing to make the organisation more inclusive. We’re definitely moving in the right direction.

Make no mistake: there’s a long way to go. The progress that has been made so far is brilliant to see and is an improvement on what the organisation was like when I first joined.

It’s exciting to be part of the change, and to hopefully be able to say, in the near future, that we made that happen collectively – and for the betterment of everyone in the organisation.

Changing things won’t be easy; transformations like this one never are. But I’m encouraged by everything I’ve seen, and truly believe the Trust will do everything in their power to get to where we need to be in the not-too-distant future.