Invisible Disabilities

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According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population (that’s an estimated 1.1 billion people) identify as having some form of visibility.

In Canada, there are currently more than 6.2 million (22% of the population) individuals aged 15 or older living with some form of disability affecting their quality of life. Among those 6.2 million, 57% of those diagnosed with a disability have one that is considered mild or moderate, while 43% of those diagnosed with a disability have one that is considered to be severe, significantly affecting their daily activities, freedom, and quality of life. Disabled persons represent the world’s largest minority group, and it is one that any one of us can become part of at any time.

According to the Canadian Survey on Disability study, the top 10 disability types identified are:

• Seeing
• Hearing
• Mobility
• Flexibility
• Dexterity
• Pain-related
• Learning
• Developmental
• Mental health related
• Memory

Many disabilities diagnosed are considered “visible.” For example, you may recognize someone with a disability of there are in a wheelchair, have trouble walking, or carry a white cane (a tool that those who are blind or visually impaired rely on when navigating their surroundings.) However, it’s also important to note that many of the disabilities that one can be diagnosed with are not always as obvious. These are known as “invisible” or “hidden” disabilities, which also affect a large number of Canadians. Examples of some of the invisible/hidden disabilities include:

• Mental illness (depression, anxiety, personality disorders)
• Autism
• Asperger’s
• Sensory processing difficulty
• Cognitive impairment (dementia, traumatic brain injuries)
• Hearing loss
• Low or restricted vision

When it comes to invisible disabilities, there is often a stigma attached. Those who have an invisible disability are often accused of faking their condition or trying to milk the system, while there is also certain language that is often used to further stigmatize those with an invisible disability or illness (i.e., “he/she looks too young to have a disability.”) – language that needs to change. When it comes to invisible disabilities, the fact that they cannot be seen does not lessen the significance of someone’s disability, and there is not one specific distinction between invisible VS visible disabilities, and it’s important to emphasis this.

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