Hidden Disabilities: Let’s Break it Down
Those with hidden disabilities make up the majority of the disabled community
When you hear the word ‘disability’, most people think of wheelchairs, service dogs, or some other form of visible aid. However, this isn’t the case for the vast majority of disabled people In the UK alone, 1 in 5 people are considered to have some form of disability, but a huge 80% of these people have what are classed as hidden disabilities. This means that their disability isn’t immediately visible.
So, we know what defines a hidden disability, but what are some examples? Some common non-visible disabilities include Autism, Crohn’s disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Epilepsy, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, as well as mental health conditions such as Anxiety and Depression.
Living with a disability is difficult and people face many challenges. Disabled people have difficulty carrying out everyday activities, such as self-care, shopping, cooking and cleaning. However, living with a hidden disability can be difficult for other reasons. Without visible evidence of a disability, the struggles people face are often ignored, leaving disabled people feeling exhausted and isolated.
Not every disability is the same, so different people will have individual support needs. It may sound obvious to say that every person is different and therefore requires different types and levels of care and help, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case when it comes to accessing support.
As a result of often being unable to access the correct support, many disabled people now ‘mask’ in society. This means either intentionally, or unintentionally, disabled people will hide their difficulties, or ‘mask’ them, in order to fit in, or appear as though they aren’t struggling. This might be difficult for people to understand but when people live their lives struggling and receive little to no sympathy and understanding for their condition, it is often easier to hide and pretend as though these struggles don’t exist. Unfortunately, masking carries its own difficulties and although it may be helpful in the short term, it can lead to bigger long-term problems for disabled people.
Whereas some people with hidden disabilities choose to mask, others opt to wear a visual aid to make people aware of their disability. After living through the Covid-19 pandemic, most people will be aware of the sunflower lanyard and have probably seen people wearing them while out and about. The sunflower lanyard scheme began in 2016 at London Gatwick Airport and was a way of identifying which passengers may need additional help while travelling. The sunflower lanyard is now recognised across all airports, supermarkets, cinemas, sports venues and more. During the pandemic, hidden disabilities became a huge talking point, and some believe that the sunflower lanyard was taken advantage of, further adding to the issues that disabled people, particularly those with hidden disabilities face on a day-to-day basis.
Knowing all of this, it is important to think about how many of us have come across or know somebody with a hidden disability. What changes can we make in order to support those with hidden disabilities? As a community, we can help raise awareness of hidden disabilities in many ways. Increasing our knowledge and taking the time to listen to the voices of disabled people is the first step towards making changes, and creating a more understanding and accessible world for those with hidden disabilities.
Listen to Dis’: Disability-Led Arts Organisation
Listen to Dis’ are the inclusivity-focused, disability-led arts organisation championing disability culture through art and performance
Listen to Dis’ is a registered non-profit community arts organisation that champions disability culture through the medium of inclusive art and performance. Their work manifests in many forms including workshops, artist series and theatrical touring, and everything has an underlying message to support and empower the global disabled community.
Here we highlight how Listen to Dis’ is bringing this message to life:
Listen to Dis’ VOICE
Listen to Dis’ VOICE is a weekly open-access program where artists join forces to learn, create, explore, and connect. The focus topic changes each week yet is always in keeping with the Listen to Dis’ core message of advocating for the disabled community. Through this profound program, Listen to Dis’ has created some truly important work surrounding ableist ways disabled bodies and minds are viewed.
The Other Ordinary
The Other Ordinary is Listen to Dis’ touring crip theatre company. Launched out of a class at the University of Regina named Devising Inclusive Theatre, and directed by Listen to Dis’ founder and artistic director Traci Foster. Dubbed TOO, it fosters the talents of emerging professional artists that produce tour shows with a focus on how it feels to live and work as disabled people.
Take their first show, ‘Neither Heroes nor Ordinary People,’ as a prime example, which uncovers the realities of living with disabilities through music, monologue, dance, beatbox, and singing. Their second show, Mine to Have, is about sexuality, sensuality, disability, and
the political right to live in one’s body.
Visiting Artist Series
LTD’s visiting artist series connects disabled artists with the wider arts ecology by inviting artists, both disabled and not, to host workshops that explore disability art. Inviting artists from outside the LTD’s group enables LTD’s network to expand but also ignites deeper learning on both parts of the essence of disability culture and mindset.
LTD’s is amplifying the voices of the disabled community through a variety of mediums that all celebrate art, performance and culture. Follow their journey on their Instagram here.
Through facilitated dialogue and inclusive art practice and performance, we weave new realities for our members and for the broader community – shifting the way people perceive disability and creating an understanding of and appreciation for crip art, mad art, and disability culture.
The Sensational Museum
‘Using what we know about disability to change how museums work for everyone’ is the tagline for The Sensational Museum
Led by Professor Hannah Thompson from Royal Holloway, University of London, The Sensational Museum is a £1 million pound-funded project by the Arts and Humanities Research Council whose goal is to alter current access methods and introduce a deeper sense of inclusivity within the museum sector in the UK.
Thompson is joined by a plethora of professionals on this project who unite on the idea that disability needs need to be put at the centre of all museums’ strategies going forward. There is Social Design specialist Anne Chick from the University of Lincoln; Psychologist Alison Eardley from the University of Westminster; and Museum Studies expert Ross Parry from the University of Leicester. They will work together between April 2023 and July 2025 to really transform the way disabled and non-disabled people interact with the art and each other in museums in the future.
Collaborating with museum staff as well as disabled and non-disabled visitors, the more-than-equipped team will be looking into two core areas: new ways of accessing museum collections and cataloguing objects in a more inclusive way. The key idea is to acknowledge and put into practice the fact that the needs of diverse visitors are all unique and not everyone absorbs art in the same way. Sector organisations include VocalEyes, an initiative that works towards inclusion for the visually impaired and blind in the arts and heritage sector, Curating for Change which helps create career paths for the disabled community, and the Museums Association, a membership organisation that campaigns for socially engaged museums. They will all be on hand to offer acute advice and inspiration as to how this project can create innovative change within museums across the country.
“Many people want or need to access and process information in ways that are not only – or not entirely – visual. But museums are very sight-dependent places. Let’s imagine a museum experience that plays to whichever senses work best for you. The project aims to give all visitors inclusive, engaging, enjoyable and memorable experiences,” Professor Hannah Thompson.
Visit The Sensational Museum website to stay up-to-date with this project and how it’s developing. It has the capacity to create real social justice and impact the disabled community and how they will be able to engage with art in a more inclusive way in the future.
Adaptive Kidswear: Get to Know What’s Available Online
Marks and Spencer, Tubie Kids and Seenin are just a few brands investing in adaptive kidswear
Both big brands like M&S and Etsy as well as more emerging companies like Seenin and Tubie Kids are innovating within the adaptive kidswear market. Whether clothes, accessories or shoes, companies are re-designing everyday items to suit multiple disability needs. Blending fashion with function, here we highlight how each company is approaching this movement.
Special Kids Company
The Special Kids Company was founded by Sasha Radwan, who spent time in the Middle East, only to see first-hand how children with special needs were hidden from society’s view there. This inspired her to launch her company, which stocks multiple brands of adaptive wear for kids. Featured on her online store are Scratch Sleeves dungarees, specially designed adaptive clothing for children with autism, eczema and post-surgical healing. And there are wheelchair accessories by brands including Bundle Bean and My Buggy Buddy. Think organisers, cup holders and those all-important rain covers.
Founded by Lucy Carr-Seaman, whose daughter, Hester, was born with a rare agenesis of the corpus callosum named Aicardi syndrome, Seenin is the answer to Lucy’s struggle to find exactly what she needed to make Hester and her life more comfortable. Seenin stocks everything from aprons and bibs to seamless socks and weighted blankets. There’s also a sweet kerchief range that can be designed by the shopper. The style fabric, colour and print can is all bespoke.
Tubie Kids focuses on adaptive clothing and accessories for tube-fed children. This innovative company provides beautifully designed, colourful, tube-friendly yet functional clothing that gives children the full dignity and sensory comfort they need and deserve. Their Tubie Kids® 2in1 Combo Tops are especially brilliant, as they are an everyday staple that has flat seams, no label tags, and a discreet opening for abdominal access.
Marks & Spencer
Retail giant M&S also offers what they’ve called a ‘Kids Easy Dressing,’ range. This collection includes hip dysplasia clothes, feeding tube clothing and zip-up bodysuits. They have rethought where poppers need to be placed as well as introduced super-soft materials to stimulate comfort. Sizes start from newborn and go up to 16 years. From pretty patterns to bold colours, as well as useful multi-packs, there is a lot to admire here.
ASDA’s ‘Easy On Easy Wear’ clothing is designed to support kids in working towards independent dressing via items like pull-on school trousers and ‘Easy On’ 2-in-1 school pinafores where the shirt is attached to the skirt. They have also done their research on sensory-kind fabrics and offer a range of items from sweatshirts to polo shirts that help comfort kids throughout their day.
E-commerce company Etsy hosts an abundance of independent brands and designers that have created adaptive clothing and accessories from first-hand experience. From tube feeding vests for 1-14-year-old boys and girls to adaptive trousers with side zippers and pyjamas with a back zipper, there is a lot on offer that will hopefully make the lives of parents and children living with disability or illness a touch more comfortable.