Five things you need to know about invisible disabilities

This week we celebrate Invisible Disabilities Week, which aims to educate and raise awareness of invisible disabilities and the importance of not making assumptions about disability - especially if you can’t ‘see’ it.

Here’s five things you need to know about invisible disabilities.

1. Invisible disabilities are more common than you think

Millions of Australians are living with disabilities – and surprisingly, up to 90% of them live with invisible disabilities!

When you think about disabilities, what comes to mind for you? Is it a wheelchair user or maybe someone with a Guide Dog? These are easily visible disabilities and often what we see on TV and in the media.

But invisible disabilities and conditions are those people live with that you can’t always ‘see’! Think MS, autism, ADHD, cystic fibrosis, mental health conditions, chronic pain and many more.

2. Invisible disabilities can affect anyone

That’s right – people of all ages and backgrounds can be diagnosed with an invisible disability. Someone might be born with their disability or develop it later in life through trauma, illness or injury.

Some invisible disabilities and conditions may be more common at certain ages – like type 1 diabetes in children. Others can be developed any time throughout someone’s life – like mental health conditions.

3. All disabilities are valid

We know it can be hard to understand disabilities when they’re not clearly visible and people with invisible disabilities are often accused of faking or exaggerating their symptoms.

However, it’s important to remember that just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not real. And, how someone looks on the outside doesn’t always reflect how they feel on the inside!

Hearing phrases like ‘but you look fine’ or ‘you don’t look like you have a disability’ are common for people with invisible disabilities – but can be really damaging! This doesn’t help to create an open, safe environment where people can talk about their disability and get the support they need. Instead, many people hide their symptoms for fear of discrimination, which continues to stigmatise invisible disabilities.

So, let’s not assume anything about disability! If your family member of friend chooses to open up about their disability, believe their symptoms are real and try to support them if they ask for help.

4. Not all invisible disabilities are 'invisible'

Some disabilities and conditions may always be ‘invisible’ to others, but this isn’t always the case.

Some invisible disabilities may become more obvious to you as you get to know someone. Other invisible disabilities may never be visible to others unless the person chooses to share their story.

Like many conditions, some people with invisible disabilities have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’ when it comes to their symptoms and pain. On good days, their symptoms may not be visible to others. But on bad days, their symptoms may become more obvious – especially if they use visible supports like mobility aids.

5. Accessibility is important for all people with disabilities

People are often quick to make assumptions about disabilities and people with invisible disabilities can face discrimination and barriers to fair and equal access to accessible facilities.

Even when people are entitled to, and need, accessible parking spots, toilets and seats on public transport, they may choose not to for fear of discrimination and abuse from others.

There may be many reasons why people need to use an accessible toilet – they may need to use the handrails, need extra room, use medical devices like an insulin pump or they may use a colostomy bag for their bowel motions.

People with invisible disabilities may need to use other accessible amenities due to mobility or breathing issues, fatigue, prosthetic limbs and many other reasons.

So, next time you see someone ask to use the accessible seat on the train or skip the toilet queue – let’s not assume they don’t need these amenities just because you can’t ‘see’ their disability.

And, if you’re in the position to do so, let’s make sure we save these accessible facilities for people who need them!

Image: A Yooralla Therapist sitting and smiling

Get in touch with us today!

Do you have, or support someone with, an invisible disability? No matter where you are on your journey, we can help you access the support you need in your home and in the community.

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