What are the types of hidden disabilities?

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Many people with disability do not have features of their disability that are visible to others.

Key points

  • Hidden disabilities are not visible to others, but are more common than visible disabilities
  • They include intellectual disabilities, learning difficulties, mental health conditions and many others
  • Worldwide, the sunflower is considered the symbol of hidden disabilities and is being used in awareness campaigns

Also known as non-visible or invisible disabilities, a lack of understanding of hidden disabilities by people in the community can lead to discrimination and a lack of support for those who need it.

It’s important to understand that hidden disabilities exist and that they are in fact quite common.

Training and education about hidden disabilities can create a society without discrimination where people with disability feel included and supported.

Examples of hidden disabilities

According to the Hidden Disabilities organisation, which raises awareness of conditions that affect people without being seen, 80 percent of disabilities are invisible. The organisation says this means there are a billion people in the world living with a hidden disability.

Anyone with a disability or medical condition that affects their daily living but is not physically visible to another person, has a hidden disability.

This could include people with diagnoses of:

  • Autism
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Brain injuries
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Chronic pain
  • Hearing impairment or Deafness
  • Learning difficulties
  • Mental health conditions
  • Mobility impairments
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Sleep disorders
  • Speech impairments
  • Visual impairments or blindness

Of course this list doesn’t cover everyone with a hidden disability and some people on the list may have visual cues of their disability while others with the same disability won’t.

For example, some people with hearing impairment may wear visible hearing aids, while others will have a hidden hearing aid or none at all.

The sunflower symbol

The sunflower is being used across the world as a symbol to raise awareness of the fact that some disabilities are invisible and people may need support in the community that others with visible disability would be given on sight.

For example, a person with anxiety may wear a lanyard with sunflowers on it while travelling through an airport to signal to airport staff and others that they might need assistance at times or a little more time to do things than others.

The use of the sunflower symbol began in the United Kingdom in 2016 and it has spread to banks, hospitals, shopping centres, sports venues and arenas, plus many airports.

Most airports in the capital cities of States across Australia have trained staff to recognise the sunflower symbol so that people with hidden disabilities don’t have to keep telling others about their disability while they travel to get the support they need.

Local Governments, such as the City of Melbourne, and organisations in industries like tourism are also taking up the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower symbol and training staff in disability awareness as well as how to support someone displaying the symbol.

Wearing the sunflower symbol is optional, as not everyone wants to show their hidden disability, and you can choose when and where to wear it depending on whether you want support in that situation or not.

There is no eligibility criteria for getting a sunflower lanyard, pin, sticker, card or wristband to use for support and understanding in the community.

You can purchase them from Hidden Disabilities, or there are some initiatives in Australia which provide them for free as part of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme. For more information about Australian locations where you can pick up an official sunflower product and organisations which support the scheme contact distributor Bayley House.

What can the community do?

Other members of the community, who are not part of businesses trained in supporting people living with hidden disabilities, can still show support and understanding through sharing the sunflower themed resources on the Hidden Disabilities website.

The organisation has videos, email badges, stories and awareness posters that are free to access and can be shared on social media or through your digital networks of contacts.

The awareness posters can also be placed in community spaces such as community centres, town halls, schools, buildings used by volunteer organisations or even shopping centres.

Sharing these resources builds awareness in the general public of the fact that not all disabilities are visible and that some people may need more time, or a little support, in day-to-day activities in the community.

What else would you like to know about disability awareness campaigns? Tell us in the comments below.

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