What is an invisible disability?

The word disability now covers a plethora of different people’s needs, including people’s mental health needs. There is also a term called invisible disability that focuses more specifically on a disability that you cannot always see. This means that there are no visible supports to indicate a disability, like a cane, wheelchair etc.

Deaf people are included in this definition of an invisible or hidden disability, which can often mean that serving deaf people can be challenging as you are not always aware of their needs from the outset.

One of the challenges is that like every definition – it is quite a wide-ranging group of people.

Invisible or Hidden Disability can cover:

  • Psychiatric disabilities
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Learning disabilities

Medical conditions that include short or long-term, stable or progress, constant or predictable and fluctuating, controlled by medication or untreatable.

As you can see by this description, invisible disability can cover all sorts of needs. I have arthritis, so does that mean that my medical condition is long-term, constant and controlled by medication, and I am therefore included in this term?

We can both see that the way in which you serve a deaf person is not at all consistent with how we would provide services to someone with arthritis.

Yes they are both hidden, but the access needs are worlds apart.”  Victoria Williams

This shows that despite the theory of grouping people together, the labelling of individuals in wide-ranging groups actually counteracts focusing on individuals’ needs.

Sometimes these definitions don’t actually help. We are better at looking at each individual’s needs, and we can simply ask them how they wish to be served or communicated with.

I am sure that we would all argue that we are different. An individual, in their own rights, would not want to be in groups with others that are loosely similar.


For more information, check out the Hidden Disabilities website here for details on their Sunflower lanyard scheme.  You can also get more information from our blog post here.