Bringing Visibility to Invisible Disabilities

Invisible disability is an umbrella term that encapsulates a spectrum of disabilities and conditions that may not be readily apparent (i.e., unseen, no visible indicators). Throughout October 17th-23rd, the Invisible Disabilities Association is hosting Invisible Disabilities Week to bring awareness of these disabilities and support for those living with invisible disabilities and their loved ones, and to educate the community at large about invisible disabilities. This year’s theme is #VisibleCourage, promoting the strength and courage of individuals living with invisible disabilities through their stories, difficulties, and triumphs.

Of the 26 million Americans living with severe disability, approximately 74% of these individuals do not utilize wheeled mobility and other mobility aids to navigate their environment, according to the Census Bureau. Because there may be no outward sign of their condition, these individuals are considered to have an invisible disability (also known as hidden disability). Invisible disabilities include neurological disorders such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, or epilepsy; psychiatric disabilities (i.e., depression, anxiety, mood disorders); intellectual or developmental disabilities, such as individuals on the autism spectrum, or with learning disabilities; chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome; and many more.

In the case of invisible disabilities, the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” has never been more appropriate.  Every person with a disability is different, with varying challenges and needs (some visible and others invisible), as well as abilities and attributes.  Individuals with invisible disabilities may be perceived as “looking fine” and may experience negative attitudes from family, friends, strangers, and even some medical professionals as it relates to the pain, fatigue, and other cognitive/mental health issues that impact their daily lives. People with invisible disabilities may encounter a lack of empathy from others when conveying their struggles, simply because the signs and symptoms are not visible on the outside. This can lead to unpleasant encounters when people with these disabilities use the accommodations, equipment, and programmatic support they have every right to access and which can help them remain independent, such as accessible parking, workplace accommodations, or benefit programs.

People with invisible disabilities have the same rights to civil protections, benefits, and services as those with readily apparent disabilities. They have the right to live, learn, and work in the community, with access to supports to make that possible. These organizations can help you learn more about invisible disabilities or, as a person with lived experience, find the support you need in the community:

We hope these resources help you, your family, and your community understand the challenges of living with an invisible disability. Please contact our Information Specialists if we can connect you to additional agencies, organizations, or resources to help you live, learn, and work independently.

About cgraves34

Media Specialist for the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) through Administration for Community Living (ACL) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
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