Living and commuting with a hidden disability
What is a hidden disability?
Invisible or hidden disabilities are physical, mental or neurological conditions that aren’t necessarily visible to other people – often leading to misunderstandings or unfair assumptions.
As the BBC reports, “If someone uses a wheelchair, or is visually impaired, it can be easier to understand the difficulties they might face and to support them.” But for those with hidden disabilities, it can be more of a challenge.
Mental health conditions such as anxiety, neurological conditions like ASD or dementia, brain injury and physical conditions like Cystic Fibrosis are all forms of hidden disabilities. Each present a unique set of challenges in day-to-day life.
The challenges of living with a hidden disability
Discrimination in the workplace
Many disabled people feel uncomfortable disclosing their disabilities to employers, “often due to a perceived stigma or lack of acceptance and understanding”. It is the employers responsibility to encourage employees with disabilities – whether they are visible or hidden – to ask for support where needed and to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace.
There is also a responsibility on both employers and colleagues to recognise and combat ableism at work, challenge ableist language and behaviours and offer support where required.
Accessing disability benefits
Many people living with disabilities are eligible for disability benefit, but accessing this benefit is becoming increasingly more difficult. Filling out the forms to apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) can be difficult for many with hidden disabilities, especially since you don’t receive “any advice on how to fill it in”.
Finally, after filling out the long, complicated form, disabled people then have to be assessed in person. This has been described by many as a “humiliating and degrading” experience. The numerous reports of assessors not listening, failing to report what the applicant had said, and wrongly claiming that certain chronic conditions could improve have left many feeling angry and let down.
The MS Society are encouraging people to sign their open letter to the next UK government, demanding improvements to the PIP assessment process – find out more on their website.
Travelling with a hidden disability
Public transport can be a stressful and daunting experience for people with disabilities. While wheelchair accessibility on trains and buses is slowly improving, many people with hidden disabilities still face discrimination on public transport.
There are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, but not all these people show visible signs of having a disability., and a lack of public understanding can leave people feeling stressed and ashamed. Those with hidden disabilities – like Multiple Sclerosis – are often challenged when they use priority seats or disabled parking.
Registering your disability with the DVLA
Most people with MS are able to continue to drive as normal after their diagnosis. In fact, many people with invisible disabilities are able to drive, though some may need additional support.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency have to assess your fitness to drive after being diagnosed or if your condition worsens after receiving your license. They may also ask you to take another driving assessment to ensure you are still able to drive safely.
It is your responsibility to notify the DVLA if you develop a medical condition or disability that may impact your ability to drive, or if your condition or disability gets worse after receiving your driving licence.
What other support is available for those with hidden disabilities?
The Sunflower Lanyard scheme
The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower was launched in Gatwick Airport back in 2016. Since then, the creators of the scheme have pushed to make the Sunflower Lanyard a globally recognised signal for hidden disabilities. The scheme is quickly being adopted across the UK in airports, supermarkets, railway stations, in the NHS and beyond.
The aim is to increase awareness of the many challenges that adults and children with hidden disabilities face, and let others know that the wearer may need support. You can find out more and join the scheme here.
The Blue Badge scheme is recognised across the EU to allow disabled drivers and passengers to park on the street nearer their destination. Blue badge eligibility was extended to be accessible for people with hidden disabilities in summer 2019. Eligibility criteria don’t just cover Disability Living Allowance or PIP recipients – other criteria can apply, such as severely struggling to follow a journey, lack of behavioural control, or anxiety in public spaces.
Access to Work for disabled people
We’ve written before about the Access to Work scheme – it’s a government programme providing assistance for people with physical or mental disabilities, to support them in their job. As transportation to your place of work forms part of this, you could be eligible for a grant to help cover the cost of vehicle adaptations or special equipment.
Vehicle adaptations for disabled drivers
There are plenty of car conversion options for disabled drivers. Beyond making vehicles wheelchair-accessible, there are plenty of ways we can make simple changes to improve the journey for a user with a hidden disability. A straightforward option is choosing an automatic vehicle, rather than manual, which can make a vehicle easier to drive, although there are pros and cons.
From disabled vehicle adaptations for those with restricted hand or arm control, to access adaptations that make getting in and out of the vehicle easier for the driver or a passenger, Cartwright’s team will talk to you about your mobility aid needs and advise you on the adaptations that will make your travel easier.Back to all blog posts