Shining light on the stigma surrounding invisible disabilities

Statistics from the Family Survey Report 2016/17 estimate that one fifth of the UK’s population are living with a long-term disability as defined by the Equality Act of 2010. This defines a disability as a mental or physical impairment that is long-term (one year) and has a substantial impact on the person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks.

However, not all disabilities are visible. This can create stigma and compound prejudice. This is because Invisible or hidden disabilities aren’t immediately noticeable and can impact a person’s life differently depending on their specific circumstances.

In an age of funding cuts to public services, people with hidden disabilities can face a double disadvantage. First, the cuts to services affect everyone and second the public services try to save money and resources by adopting policies on a one-shoe fits all basis. For people with a hidden disability is it unreasonable to adopt such a policy.

This is because invisible disabilities can be both mental and physical including conditions such as major depression, personality disorders, chronic tiredness, HIV/AIDS and Crohn’s disease; just to name a few.

Other challenges faced by people with a hidden disability include the decision not to disclose their disability to potential or current employers. The decision to omit this information can be attributed to the fear of being seen as a hinderance in the workplace and being discriminated against.

This can be attributed to a diminishing disability support system and the continued stigmatisation of disabilities as a whole.

This stigmatisation of invisible disabilities is detrimental for many reasons; it limits the scope of discussion, decreases our understanding of the day-to-day challenges of living with a disability, erects barriers to career opportunities, and reinforces the negative feedback mechanisms embedded in our current disability care system.

Challenging the stigma and educating the general public that disabled people are not one homogenised group, is essential to transforming Scotland’s disability support system into one which is adaptable to the challenges of the modern era and focuses on delivering results for all those living with disabilities, both seen and invisible.

Recent changes in Scotland hope to fight the stigmatisation of invisible disability through the addition of signage highlighting that not all disabilities are visible.

This addition is helping educate the public that an individual can appear healthy but be managing an invisible disability behind the scenes.

One such person to thank for such a change is twelve-year old Grace Warnock who has recently been awarded the points of light charity award for exceptional service to the community.

Grace has been awarded this due to her campaigning for invisible disability awareness after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of ten.

The inspiration for Grace’s campaign originated when she herself had been criticised from not appearing disabled.  

While Grace has turned her negative experiences into a positive movement, there are many others suffering from invisible disabilities in the UK who feel as if their invisible disability isn’t treated equally compared to visible disabilities.

Grace Warnock’s invisible disabilities toilet sign; Source: Points of Light

Grace Warnock’s invisible disabilities toilet sign; Source: Points of Light

However, there is hope with the launch of a campaign which is targeting some of the UK’s biggest restaurants and chains to include signage highlighting that “not every disability is visible”.  

The campaign has seen those living with an invisible disability feel much more comfortable going to venues which are displaying the “not every disability is visible” material.  

This is a small step in the right direction to ensuring that those living with disabilities are cared for properly in Scotland, and even small changes can make a huge difference for those living with an invisible disability.

Being mindful, educating yourself and understanding where people will need adjustments to ensure their wellbeing are just a few things we can do to promote and foster a culture which understands the challenges those with invisible disabilities face in our society.

Because when discussing disabilities, it is important that all disabilities are considered, and that the scope of discussion isn’t constrained to those we are familiar with, as this will only compound the stigma faced by disabled people whose disabilities are invisible.

On a final note if you wish to get involved and assist the campaign to fight the stigma against invisible disabilities you can access their site through this link.

This will help Scotland address the problem behind the stigmatisation of invisible disabilities and change the lives of those who are managing an invisible disability.