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Five Things You Didn’t Know About Invisible Disabilities


September 14, 2020 | by Ashley Eisenmenger


Ashley Eisenmenger

Disability Inclusion Training Specialist


Editor’s Note: Ashley Eisenmenger is Public Relations Coordinator at Access Living and the editor of this blog.  A blind woman, she speaks regularly to groups about topics such as perspective, adversity, performance, and disability.  She has given a Tedx talk and continues to advocate for the inclusion and integration of people with disabilities in the fitness world.

The term invisible disability seems self-exclamatory

Simply put, it is a disability that cannot be seen when looking at someone. According to the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. There is no specification that a disability has to be apparent upon first glance. Here are a few things you might not know about invisible disabilities…

Invisible disabilities are common

Invisible disabilities occur with much more frequency than you might expect. According to the CDC, 61 million adults across the U.S. identify as having a disability of some kind, and about 10% of those are invisible disabilities. That statistic is likely lower than it is in real life because there are people with conditions that qualify as invisible disabilities that would not consider themselves to hold a disability identity.

People with invisible disabilities are protected by the ADA and entitled to accommodations

The ADA does not stipulate that a disability has to be visible for a person to receive protection from discrimination. Oftentimes, people with invisible disabilities face discrimination because there are many false assumptions about needed accommodations for this subset of the population. They have the same legal rights as other people with disabilities – rights to access, accommodations, and they are not to be discriminated against based on their disability.

Invisible disabilities can drastically affect how a person functions

Not everything is what it seems. Just because you cannot see a person’s disability does not mean it does not significantly affect their day-to-day functioning. Dyslexia, for example, effects a person’s ability to interpret printed or written letters and words. This can make schooling and working extremely difficult; however, there are a variety of accommodations that can support individuals who have dyslexia such as contrast and color changes in the background of text or audio or read aloud option when on websites or listening to books.

Invisible disabilities can ebb and flow

Like many disabilities that can be seen, invisible disabilities can ebb and flow. People can have “good” days and “bad” days just like someone might use a walker for short distances and a wheelchair for long ones. Invisible disabilities such as anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses can cause more problems on some days or in some settings and less problems in others.

People of all ages have and can acquire invisible disabilities

Disability is unique because it is the only minority group that a person can join at any time in their life. That means that a child or adult could have a disability. Just like a physical disability can be obtained at any time in life, so can all other categories of disability. We often think of learning disabilities as only impacting children. There are countless numbers of adults that face challenges or use accommodations to function with their invisible disabilities.

Invisible disabilities are everywhere. They affect millions of people. They should be held to the same standards and considerations as all other disabilities. No person should be discriminated against because of disability hidden or visible.