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Disability Narratives

We asked people about their experiences of telling other people about their long term condition or disability. Some of those we spoke to said that they were used to talking about their condition and were happy to share with friends, colleagues or managers. However, many people spoke of the difficulties or the limits of talking about their condition or disability.

[Note: We recognise that we were privileged that people shared some very personal and emotional information with us in the process of this project. This does not mean they may wish to discuss such matters with everyone they meet, or that someone with a similar condition would necessarily want to discuss their situation as openly. We hope that this section encourages understanding of the benefits of telling people, but also highlights the personal and social limits of doing so.]

Difficulties of telling

We found people felt that stigmas around certain conditions or disabilities affected what some people said and to whom. Some people also said that they were reticent to speak to others as they felt they would not be believed or taken seriously. For some people, talking about their condition or disability was difficult as they were still learning what it meant to them. A key theme was that there were limits to what people wanted to talk about, depending on who the information was being shared with, how personal the information was and, the purpose of the disclosure. One example that came up in a number of interviews was that of applying for and starting new jobs, with people explaining why, how, and when they disclosed their condition or disability. Another example was how best to provide or seek offers of help and support.

Stigma, taboos and being believed

Click for Susannah's interviewSusannah tries to avoid telling colleagues about her condition, as she worries they will not fully appreciate how she is feeling.


Click for Stella's interviewStella reflects that her worry that she will not be believed prevents her from telling people about her depression.


Changing identity and learning to voice your needs

Click for Lyn's interview© Disability NarrativesLyn found that being diagnosed with dyslexia later in life challenged her ideas about herself.


Click for Sue's interviewAt first Sue found it difficult to voice her needs, but has become more confident over time.


Click for Mary's interview© Disability NarrativesMary reflects that it has taken time to establish how much to share about her condition.


Click for Milembe's interview© Disability NarrativesAt first Milembe did not want to tell people about her cancer, but as she got better she found it easier to share.


How much to share and with whom

Sometimes, people's condition or disability was apparent. As Devon explained, "I think I've been on sticks enough that [laughing] people have kind of gathered what's going on. And they know that I've had the surgeries, and when that's coming, and that when I'm gone for a long time, that's the recovery time."

Click for Richard's interviewRichard explains that he finds it quite easy to tell people about his diabetes as because of both the day-to-day and long-term impact it has on his life.


Click for Verity's interviewAlthough Verity may be open about her mental health condition, she is careful about what she tells staff and managers.


Click for Charlotte's interview© Disability NarrativesCharlotte describes what she told and to whom, and her worries about how different people would react to her conditions.


Click for Stella's interviewAlthough Stella was able to tell her manager a bit about how she was feeling, she was not able to say to what extent.


Click for John's interview© Disability NarrativesJohn finds that it does help to tell people about his condition as it helps them understand how it affects him, but is careful about how much he discloses and to whom.


Click for Mary's interview© Disability NarrativesMary explains it is not always clear who needs to know what in her college and faculty.


What to disclose in job applications and when starting new roles

Click for Kevin's interviewKevin has found that being open about his conditions in job interviews, even though he knows employers cannot ask about it.


Click for Charlotte's interview© Disability NarrativesCharlotte explains how she declared her condition prior to starting her new role.


Click for Ruth's interviewRuth would be happy to disclose her dyslexia in a job application, but is unsure if it was always a good idea because of some of the preconceptions people can have about disability.


Click for John's interview© Disability NarrativesJohn hopes that providing potential employers with an explanation of his condition helps them understand what it is, as well as explain the gaps in employment that were due to his illness.


Click for Gabrielle's interview© Disability NarrativesGabrielle explains that she had little choice but to tell her prospective and new employers about her conditions.


Offering or seeking help or support

Click for Maria's interviewMaria is happy for people to offer to help her (even when she does not need it), as long as they do not feel sorry for her.


Click for Jan's interviewJan explains that she has told certain trusted colleagues of her epilepsy, in case she has a seizure at work.


Click for Roberta's interviewRoberta explains how her colleagues have been primed to help her should a migraine come on at work.


Click for Maeve's interview© Disability NarrativesMaeve explains that she is open about her epilepsy with colleagues and students in case she has a seizure.


Exploring boundaries in explanation and understanding

There may be clear benefits to telling people for those with long term condition or a disability, but there are limits to what people are able to share (or should be expected to share). The people we spoke to explained how, while they may wish to take responsibility to express their needs, the (work) environment that they are in can either make this easier or harder to do. Fears or anxieties about how other people will react (drawn from personal experiences) can make it difficult to talk about personal, sometimes embarrassing, or emotional issues. Some people explained instances when preconceptions around their long term condition or disability – even when well meaning – were a boundary to developing an understanding of their individual situation and needs.

Initiating conversations

Click for Susannah's interviewSusannah explains how she struggled to voice her needs during an office move and her relief when her manager took the lead.


Click for Kevin's interviewKevin finds that to ensure he has access to a meeting room he has had to take responsibility for declaring his accessibility issues.


Click for Jo's interviewJo explains that while she is comfortable to talk about her disability needs, she does not want to discuss private or medical matters.


Click for Charlotte's interview© Disability NarrativesCharlotte finds preconceptions about physical and mental illness makes it difficult to share personal information.


Click for Richard's interviewRichard finds that repeatedly telling people about his diabetes can be embarrassing, as he is sometimes made to feel that his making a fuss.


Preconceptions and understanding

Click for Maria's interviewMaria explains how when at work, people can sometimes be shocked to learn of her disability as she does not always look or act as though she has a visual impairment.


Click for Verity's interviewVerity explains that despite appearances of functioning well at work, people cannot always tell how she is feeling.


Click for Sue's interviewFinding someone who helped provide an alternative outlook on life helped change Sue’s attitude about what was possible when living with a long term condition.


Click for Maeve's interview© Disability NarrativesMaeve finds that people’s preconceptions of how epilepsy affects her can be problematic.


Click for John's interview© Disability NarrativesAlthough John understands people’s attempts to understand his condition via comparisons with their own experiences, it can sometimes feel like they are trivialising his condition.


Some people found that other people's interpretation of their behaviour helped to minimise the impact of any actions they took to manage their condition.

Click for Mary's interview© Disability NarrativesMary finds most people do not react to her standing in meetings or using a cushion for her back.

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