By Michelle Buckland
What is an “invisible disability” (also known as Hidden Disabilities or Non-visible Disabilities). In simple terms, an invisible disability is one that is not visible from the outside or is not immediately apparent, yet can limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses, or activities. This encompasses:
- Physical (e.g., debilitating pain),
- Mental illness (e.g., social anxiety),
- Cognitive (e.g., memory issues),
- Learning/intellectual (e.g., dyslexia),
- Neurological (e.g., epilepsy), or an
- Episodic condition (e.g., lupus).
The list of invisible disabilities is seemingly endless, encompassing at least 50 different types. Invisible disabilities are far more common than many people realize. According to the WHO’s World Report on Disability, 15% of the world’s population –– more than 1 billion people – are living with a disability. Of the 6.2 million persons with disabilities aged 15 years and over in Canada, 2.4 million (39%) experience conventional continuous limitations whereas 3.8 million (61%) experienced some type of disability dynamic (2017 Canada Survey Disability Report). In the time of COVID-19, these numbers are certain to grow as people confront increasing issues (e.g., mental health issues, accommodation, etc.).
Generally seeing a person in a wheelchair, wearing a hearing aid, or carrying a white cane alerts us to the fact that a person may be living with a disability. But what about invisible disabilities that make daily living difficult for people nationally and globally? Any kind of disability can be judged harshly. Visibly, you are not ‘whole’; invisibly, ‘you aren’t that sick’. The quality of a person’s life may be significantly impacted by a condition one cannot visibly see. People with invisible disabilities can be limited in ways that those without them might never have even considered. For example, a person with uncontrolled or uncontrollable epilepsy may not be permitted to drive. The stigma of invisible disabilities is detrimental for many reasons: it limits the scope of discussion, decreases the understanding of day-to-day challenges of living with a disability; create barriers to career opportunities; and reinforce negative experiences.
The mindset needs to shift to universal access, universal design, and universal acceptance. There are powerful ways to help make this happen. Bring visibility, enhance acceptance, build awareness, and advocate for accessibility and inclusion for all persons who identify themselves of having a disability in society.
We at Barrier-free Canada are happy to be a voice for the community and will celebrate Health Promotion Days for ALL disabilities (based on Government of Canada webpage – Calendar of Health Promotion Days) each month. We first want to acknowledge all the ones which took place in Quarter 1 of 2021.
Below are the health promotion days for May 2021*:
- Ankylosing Spondylitis Awareness Month
- Bladder Cancer Awareness Month
- Brain Tumour Awareness Month
- Hemochromatosis Awareness Month
- Hypertension Awareness Month
- International Awareness Day for Chronic Immunological and Neurological Diseases*
- Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month
- Mental Health Week
- National Child and Youth Mental Health Day*
- Speech and Hearing Month
- Vision Health Month
- World Hypertension Day*
- World Lupus Day*
- World Multiple Sclerosis Day
- World Ovarian Cancer Day
- World Pulmonary Hypertension Day*
- World Schizophrenia and Psychosis Day
“The problem is not the person’s disability…the problem is society’s view of the person’s abilities.” – Opportunity Development Centers, Inc.
 Disabled World (2009). Invisible disabilities: List and information. Retrieved from https://www.umass.edu/studentlife/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/Invisible%20Disabilities%20List%20%26%20Information.pdf
 Fawcett, G., Hughes, J., Morris, S., & Timoney, L. (2019, December 03). The dynamics of disability: Progressive, recurrent or fluctuating limitations [Report]. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2019002-eng.htm
* Events marked with an asterisk take place on the same day every year.