Disclosing my disability at work
17th November 2022
Speech and Language Therapist Natasha Wimbledon tells us what positives came out of telling employers about her disability.
I'm a Speech and Language Therapist and I volunteer for the Employment Support Service at STAMMA. We have been thinking about inclusion and diversity in the workplace and how we can help people feel more comfortable disclosing that they stammer. By disclosing, I mean telling employers and colleagues that they stammer so that they can access the support that is available to them.
The decision to disclose or not to disclose a disability or long-term condition is a very personal one and taking this step can feel very daunting — one I am only too familiar with as a person with a disability myself. Whilst I don't have a stammer, I see many similarities between myself and the people who stammer that I work with. I wondered whether sharing my own journey around disclosure might be useful to others.
As a child growing up, I had never really met anyone else with a disability or long-term condition other than the occasional person in a hospital waiting room. I don't ever recall seeing anyone like me on television or in books and there was little in the way of support to help me with managing life hurdles and that 'bounceback-ability'.
I tried my best to fit in and do the same as my friends, but unfortunately this was not always possible and not everyone was as accepting as others. I was teased about how I looked and how I walked. I also had negative comments from education staff through secondary school and again when applying for university, implying that I wasn't good enough. This only strengthened my reluctance to tell people.
The decision to disclose or not to disclose a disability or long-term condition is a very personal one and taking this step can feel very daunting.
This came to a head at a university open day when a staff member asked, "Would you not be better considering a job like drawing where you can sit down all day?". She thought I wouldn't be capable of working as a Speech and Language Therapist with my disability. If this woman had seen my drawing skills, then I'm sure she may have suggested a different role as I am certainly no artist!
Through sheer determination and a bit of stubbornness at not taking 'no' for an answer, I did make it in the end. I have worked for the same NHS Trust now for over twenty years and worked my way up to the role of Lead Speech and Language Therapist for dysfluency.
Benefits of disclosing my disability
Whilst I disclosed my disability at my first interview, I provided them with a diluted version as I was worried about how this would be received — would they share the view of that lecturer or my teachers at school and politely decline my application as there were better candidates?
Over the years, my health has declined and I have had to become more open as it became too difficult to hide. Doing this has actually turned out to be a very positive experience and it's taken me on a path I would have never imagined, with both benefits to myself and the wider Trust.
Whilst I still have a way to go with being as open in other areas of my life outside of work, it's nice to feel I can bring my whole self to work and feel fully accepted for who I am.
It has led to increased personal wellbeing and energy as hiding a significant part of my identity can be draining. Whilst I still have a way to go with being as open in other areas of my life outside of work, it's nice to feel I can bring my whole self to work and feel fully accepted for who I am.
The reasonable adjustments that my employer has made for me have also meant that I have been able to work to my full potential and remain at work when I would have otherwise had to take long-term absence and potentially early retirement. I am also able to work much more flexibly. Plus, it has provided me with greater job satisfaction as it has opened doors that I never expected. I am an active member of our Long-Term Condition and Disability group, offering support to other colleagues and acting as a source of expertise to influence policy change; I also network with colleagues outside of speech and language therapy that I would have otherwise never met; and I have presented at board level and taken part in various leadership projects too.
I hope that by taking that step out of my comfort zone and being open at work has led to me becoming the person I wish I had for support when I was growing up.
Not only has disclosure been of benefit to me as an individual, but I believe it is also of benefit to the organisation I work for. Disclosure helps them to better understand their staff, their colleagues and their clients and customers, making the workplace and the services we provide a more diverse and enriching environment for everyone.
See our Stammering at Work page for tips on disclosing your stammer at work.
Have you spoken to your employer about your stammer? What was the outcome? If you'd like to write an article about it we'd love to share it here. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or see Share Your Story for more details.