In Australia, approximately 1 in 5 people have a disability. Some of these may be known and some of these may have been kept hidden for various reasons that may or may not be up to the individual.
When we think of disability, we often think of the stereotype of a person needing a wheelchair or some other physical handicap, but this assumption is not always true. While some disabilities do require the use of physical aids, some disabilities cannot be identified as easily and are referred to as hidden or invisible disabilities.
The organisation, Hidden Disabilities recognises a invisible disability can cover a broad range of illnesses experienced by people everywhere. According to their website,
“While some of us experience a disability that is visible, many of us have a non-visible disability that is not immediately apparent to others. These can be temporary, situational, or permanent. They can be neurological, cognitive and neurodevelopmental, as well as physical, visual, auditory and including sensory and processing difficulties. They also include respiratory, rare diseases and chronic conditions such as asthma, and diabetes”
Just because an invisible disability cannot be seen does not mean that is not as debilitating as a physical condition, in fact as these are hidden, it may be harder to deal with as, from an outside perspective, everything is normal (whatever normal means as it is different to everyone). Because these hidden disabilities can't be easily identified by a cane or other aids, how do we communicate that we have a disability?
That is what organisations such as Hidden Disabilities are trying to change. They are trying to create something visible for invisible disabilities. The sunflower lanyard was originally an initiative used at Gatwick Airport in England in 2016. A system was needed to identify people who may have a hidden disability and require assistance. From there, the sunflower icon was born and now in 2023, the sunflower is everywhere and well known within the disability community.
The sunflower lanyard and other initiatives are an easy way to volunteer to others that you have a disability. It takes the stress out of those sometimes-awkward discussions and lets them know in an easy non-confrontational stress-free way. For example, it can be used in situations where you may need an accessible seat on public transport, or in a situation where you may need to use a business’s toilet as nature calls (we have all been there so no judgment).
One example from my personal experience - as recounted in CPSN’s CP Diaries episode - a bad night out began with a well-intentioned plan, which turned into anything but. This night started with us planning to go to a local bar in our area for a fun night out with friends. I got there and was greeted with a long line of other patrons, waiting to be ushered in by the bouncers at the front. We got to the front of the line, and the bouncers let my friends in but refused me entry, saying I looked intoxicated. The stumble they were seeing was, of course, due to my cerebral palsy. As I tried to explain this and pull up Centrelink and NDIS proof on my phone, the situation starts to become unpleasant as the bouncer stats to physically force us to move on, as he thinks I am not cooperating. So my friends and I do the sensible thing of leaving and vowing not to give them any of our business.
While this situation is, unfortunately, one of many and has unfortunately just become another thing I have to deal with, if I had known of an initiative such as this, my hope is that an unexpected bad night out this could have had a very different resolution.
Product shown/used in this publication: A symbol for non-visible disabilities, also known as hidden disabilities or invisible disabilities. (hiddendisabilitiesshop.com.au)
Product explained in this article is not a recommendation from CPSN.
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Production made possible with the assistance of My CP Guide - My CP Guide is an online resource that provides credible information on cerebral palsy from early diagnosis, therapies, interventions, and support services across the life course. visit their website to learn more