Invisible Disability

In his early days in show business, actor and comedian Kenneth Williams wrote to a close friend about a mutual colleague in the theatre who had to withdraw from a play because of a growth, which turned into a permanent throat disorder. “Such a bore that kind of thing” said Williams “not even what you can call an interesting complaint. I mean, you can’t even show it to anyone can you!”

Later in life, before his own untimely death, he found his own various hidden illnesses were more than boring, rather they were frustrating as “The pain is agony. Can’t stand. Oh these are awful days to live through, and the idea of going to do publicity photos. What a joke to think I was smiling and smirking into the camera for these photos, with the inside crying out ‘Die’-forget it with the ever present pain”.

As we can see from these observations, one of the major problems faced by people who have invisible disabilities is that often other people don’t see the disability and often don’t believe them.

Invisible Disability

What is an Invisible Disability?

Invisible Disability, or hidden disability, is an umbrella term that captures a whole spectrum of hidden disabilities or challenges, which are primarily neurological in nature. An invisible disability is a disability that cannot be seen, it may not require a wheelchair, crutches or a blue badge. Some are not immediately obvious, such as learning difficulties, mental health as well as mobility, speech, visual or hearing impairments.  

Living with a hidden disability can make daily life more demanding for many people, but it can be difficult for others to recognise, acknowledge or understand the challenges you face.

Some people with visual or auditory disabilities, who do not wear glasses or hearing aids, or discreet hearing aids, may not be obviously disabled. Some people who have vision loss may wear contacts. A sitting disability is another category of invisible impairments; sitting problems are usually caused by chronic back pain. Those with joint problems or chronic pain may not use mobility aids on some days, or at all. Although the disability creates a challenge for the person who has it, the reality of the disability can be difficult for others to recognize or acknowledge. Others may not understand the cause of the problem, if they cannot see evidence of it in a visible way.

Some Types of Invisible Disabilities

  • Chronic Pain: A variety of conditions may cause chronic pain. A few of those reasons may be back problems, bone disease, physical injuries, and any number of other reasons. Chronic pain may not be noticeable to people who do not understand the victim’s specific medical condition.
  • Chronic Fatigue: This type of disability refers to an individual who constantly feels tired. This can be extremely debilitating and affect every aspect of a person’s everyday life.
  • Mental Illness: There are many mental illnesses that do qualify for disability benefits. Some examples are depression, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, and many others. These diseases can also be completely debilitating to the victim, and can make performing everyday tasks extremely difficult, if not impossible.
  • Chronic Dizziness: Often associated with problems of the inner ear, chronic dizziness can lead to impairment when walking, driving, working, sleeping, and other common tasks.
  • Acquired Brain Injury: Following either an accident, or a birth defect, brain injuries can affect people in different ways, and to different degrees of severity.

People with psychiatric disabilities or acquired brain injuries make up a large segment of the invisibly-disabled population.

It is estimated that 10% of people have a medical condition which could be considered a type of invisible disability, 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with an illness that is invisible.

Many people living with a hidden physical disability or mental challenge are still able to be active in their hobbies, work and be active in sports. On the other hand, some struggle just to get through their day at work and some cannot work at all.

Invisible Disability in Society

A growing number of organisations, governments and institutions are implementing policies and regulations to accommodate persons with invisible disabilities. Governments and school boards have implemented screening tests to identify students with learning disabilities, as well as other invisible disabilities, such as such as vision or hearing difficulties, or problems in cognitive ability, motor skills, or social or emotional development. If a hidden disability is identified, resources can be used to place a child in a special education program that will help them progress in school.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard

Be Visible When You Want To Be

Wearing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower discreetly indicates to people around you, including staff, colleagues and health professionals, that you may need additional support, help or a little more time.

In addition to the lanyard scheme, places like airports are also doing their bit to help people with invisible disabilities. Gatwick airport is said to have first introduced the sunflower lanyard program in 2016. Since then, most UK airports have welcomed and adopted the idea.

Airport staff can help passengers with lanyards by;

  • Giving them more time to prepare for security checks and boarding
  • Letting them stay with family members at all times
  • Giving them clear instructions to follow
  • Explaining, in detail, what they can expect when travelling through the airport

Manchester Airport also has a Sunflower room, which allows wearers of the sunflower lanyard to escape the hustle and bustle of the departure area if needed.

Several supermarkets, train lines, ferries, visitor attractions and sporting venues also recognise the sunflower lanyard and have specifically trained staff to help.

How to get a Lanyard

  • Airports: If you’re due to fly from a major UK airport, you should be able to ask for a lanyard from an airport assistance desk, or order it in advance, depending on your chosen airport. Find out more about the best way of getting the lanyard by contacting the airport before you travel.
  • Railways and ferries: Contact customer services before you travel or ask at station booking offices or check-in desks.
  • Supermarkets and retail stores: Request the lanyard at the customer service desk of larger stores or shopping centres or at the checkout at smaller stores.
  • Visitor attractions and leisure providers: Ask at the tills or information points, or contact customer services in advance.
  • Hospitals: The main reception desks should be able to give you a lanyard, or tell you about the other areas of the hospital where you can collect one.
  • Sports venues: Contact the ticket office.