Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Invisible Disabilities
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was marked on December 3rd of last year. However, this occasion was different from previous years as its theme leaned more towards awareness to disabilities that are hidden or not immediately apparent to others, or what are referred to as “invisible disabilities.” Like with visible disabilities, this can have a negative impact to those who are affected, as well as their loved ones and caregivers.
However, they are often forced to stay in the shadows because of people’s lack of awareness that disabilities don’t always involve someone using a wheelchair or a pair of crutches. They face scrutiny and criticism if they do decide to disclose their disabilities and are often regarded as someone who’s merely being difficult or hard-headed.
But there’s definitely something beneath the surface. Those with these hidden disabilities, such as mental health disorders, chronic pain and fatigue, traumatic brain injuries, neurological disorders, developmental disorders, and learning disabilities, deserve understanding and empathy.
A fight that no one can see
Having an invisible disability is often like being involved in a fight that no one can see, which is truly difficult for those affected. A 2011 Canadian survey revealed that 88% of those with hidden disabilities are wary of disclosing their situation for fear of being labelled. On the other hand, some are reluctant to be open about their hidden disabilities because they themselves are unsure whether they qualify as disabled in the legal sense.
Still, there have been positive stories. For example, a London-based administrator, who was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and benign hypermobility syndrome, disclosed her situation to her employers during the application process. Not only was she hired without question, the company also provided her with a specialised keyboard and chair, along with extra time off for therapy.
Bringing them into light
While it’s been a slow start, there have been more and more awareness campaigns over the years that bring to light these invisible disabilities. One that’s worthy of note was a blogger who recently won a grant through ASUS to launch campaigns to promote understanding of hidden disabilities. Niamh Gibbs was first diagnosed with a chronic illness when she was just 16 years old. Now at 22, she is pursuing her A levels and dreams of getting into medicine.
It took a while for Gibbs to get the correct diagnosis as most general practitioners dismissed her symptoms, citing it was all due to the stress of school life. After receiving her diagnosis, Gibbs was relieved that there was finally a name to her issues, and though it would change her life forever, at least she felt that it was okay to not be okay all the time. She chronicles her experience through her blog and hopes to inspire others to aim for the best despite their hidden illnesses.
Gibbs is only one of the many whose journey to come to terms with her hidden disability hasn’t exactly been smooth. However, as more and more people become more aware and understanding of the condition, the burden that those like Gibbs carry will be lightened.
Getting things moving in the right direction
While there’s still a lot to be done to raise awareness for hidden disabilities, some Canadian colleges and universities have recognized the need for providing accommodations and assistance to those afflicted with them by way of disability services offices — or accessibility services ofﬁces, as they are increasingly called – which have become common on Canadian campuses.
However, policies and procedures for accessing accommodations differ by college or university, as do the stafﬁng and budgets for disability services. It’s a system that’s still a work in progress.