Raising awareness for invisible disabilities and their impact on society
Invisible disabilities are not acknowledged and recognized nearly as much as ‘visible’ disabilities. Seeing someone with a visible disability includes an individual using a mobility device, or having physical features that distinctly categorize them as someone who is disabled and may require special assistance. This cannot be said for invisible disabilities, which are just as impactful as visible disabilities, but are much less understood or discussed, as symptoms are hidden or not apparent to others.
It is important to consider that some with invisible disabilities are generally healthy, able to work and can pursue their hobbies without many limitations. On the other hand, some with invisible disabilities are significantly impacted, meaning that they cannot go about their lives without noticeable limitations. It is important to not only acknowledge the existence of invisible disabilities, but to proactively educate yourself about them. This is especially true if you will be working with or are otherwise closely associated with someone with an invisible disability.
A large proportion of invisible disabilities are psychiatric or neurologic conditions. This has to do with mental illness, developmental and learning delays, brain injuries and many more. Others include conditions causing pain or gastrointestinal issues. In fact, many chronic conditions can be classified as an invisible disability. Evidence shows that a high prevalence of people with invisible disabilities have been accused of exaggerating, faking or imagining their disability. This is shown in addition to the negative emotions faced due to stigmatization and others’ resistance to change. Those with invisible disabilities may feel embarrassed, hurt, misunderstood and limited in what they can achieve, which can be shown through three examples:
1. There is a lack of accommodation in some higher education settings for those who have autism, which can affect learning. They are forced to attend classes in person for attendance purposes without options to watch lectures online or have a reserved place to focus. It would then be challenging for these individuals to keep up with coursework, as well, they may feel embarrassed about falling behind compared to their peers.
2. In a workplace setting, someone with endometriosis may experience debilitating pain on a monthly basis. They do not have enough sick days to use if they were to take days off every month. When they use up all their sick days and are required to come in, even when they are unwell, the quality of their work suffers and they also sacrifice their personal wellbeing.
3. Those with depression who attend counseling or therapy sessions may find that the times the sessions are held conflict with schooling or work schedules. Academic concession requests may be denied and time off may not be granted, simply because an individual may not appear to be severely ill and organizations do not want their schedules to be disrupted. They may feel frustrated and hurt, and their depression may gradually worsen with negative impacts on their academics or work life.
Today, more and more academic institutions and workplaces are beginning to implement new policies and procedures to better accommodate those with invisible disabilities. This includes screening tests such as those for learning disabilities, and resources such as professional counseling for those with mental health concerns. While this is a good start, it is crucial that more research is conducted and resources developed for those with invisible disabilities. This includes advocacy and educational programs, support groups and more. It is essential that awareness is raised for invisible disabilities, which will encourage understanding and attitude changes that facilitate inclusivity and acceptance.
- World D. Invisible Disabilities: List and General Information [Internet]. Disabled World. 2014 [cited 2021 Oct 24]. Available from: https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/types/invisible/
- Let’s Talk About Invisible Disabilities | Rick Hansen Foundation [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 24]. Available from: https://www.rickhansen.com/news-stories/blog/lets-talk-about-invisible-disabilities