The term disability is often associated with people with physical illnesses or that we can easily identify. For example, when we see a person in a wheelchair or using a prosthesis, a cane or any other functional device, we are aware of their disability and we know how to act.
However, there are also “non-visible” disabilities that concern both those who suffer them and their families. These are disabilities that are not obvious to the naked eye but can still be related to a high degree of disability and a greater risk of exclusion and discrimination.
We speak, for example, of hearing impairment, some brain injuries, psychosocial disability, autism, some mental health disorders or fatigue and chronic pain caused by diseases such as pulmonary hypertension or cystic fibrosis.
Thousands of people live with invisible disabilities every day
The term "invisible disability" is used to define those difficulties that prevent a person from developing or developing in their day to day in a normal way. These difficulties can cause problems in any area of their life, and are practically imperceptible.
It is, therefore, a term within which we can encompass a wide range of pathologies and conditions.
According to data from the US Invisible Disabilities Association, 26 million Americans (nearly 1 in 10) have a severe disability. Of these, only 1.8 million use a wheelchair and only 5 million of them use canes, crutches or other technical aids. This basically means that 74% of Americans with a disability live with one that cannot be seen "with the naked eye."
Some examples of non-visible disabilities:
The hearing impairment is any condition that causes a decrease in the ability to perceive sound, which creates serious difficulties in verbal communication. It is not, therefore, a disease, but the consequence of different medical conditions that generate permanent or temporary damage to the different structures of the ear.
Depending on the time of its appearance, hearing impairment can be congenital (when it is due to a malformation of the structures that make up the ear or due to abnormal functioning at the cellular and even molecular level), acquired (due to genetic, traumatic, toxic (medicines and drugs) or degenerative (aging).
Depending on its degree of depth, hearing impairment can be anacusis (profound or severe hearing impairment), deafness (only sounds above 75 dB are perceived) or hearing loss (sounds below 75 dB can be perceived, but not in the full range of hearing considered normal).
The multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the nervous system that affects the brain and spinal cord. MS occurs because the immune system attacks the myelin in nerve cells (neurons) by mistake.
Since nerves extend throughout the body, multiple sclerosis can manifest itself in many parts of the body, and in many ways and intensities. In fact, this disease is also known as "the disease of a thousand faces" because its symptoms and severity can vary greatly from one patient to another.
Around 2,500,000 people in the world suffer from multiple sclerosis, about 770,000 of them in Europe. In 2019, the disease affected 130,000 people in the UK, which is estimated to be 190 people per 100,000 population.
MS is degenerative in nature. The symptoms in the early stages of the disease are vision problems, tingling, numbness, spasms or balance problems, often invisible to the immediate circle of the patient.
People with multiple sclerosis often experience some symptoms that make it one of the invisible disabilities. These symptoms include general and debilitating fatigue, difficulty swallowing, emotional disturbances, and sleep problems.
·Autism (Autism Spectrum Condition)
The Autism is another of the types of disabilities are not visible most unknown.
The Autism Spectrum Condition is a developmental neurobiological disorder, present from birth, although not visible, manifesting at some point in the first three years and lasting throughout life.
The term spectrum refers to the wide range of abilities, symptoms and degrees of functional disability , with two very characteristic symptoms:
- Deficiencies in communication and social interaction.
- Presence of restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
In many cases, the Autism Spectrum Condition goes unnoticed and is misdiagnosed. The reason is that many people on the spectrum are considered fully functional and independent. However, other people with autism have a degree of severe disability that prevents them from leading "normal" lives.
The pulmonary hypertension is a type of blood pressure that affects the arteries of the lungs and to the right side of the heart.
High pressure in the arteries makes it difficult for blood to flow in the lungs, and the heart must work harder to pump blood to the lungs, causing the heart muscle to weaken and fail.
Some of the common symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, pressure in the chest, swelling in the ankles, legs and abdomen (ascites), bluish color of the lips and skin (cyanosis), and the racing pulse.
·Mental health disorders
Mental health has many disorders that are known as mental illnesses or disorders. These disorders affect affective and cognitive processes, mood, thought and behaviour, being one of the non-visible disabilities with the highest prevalence in society.
Mental health disorders can be associated with changes in mood, emotional ups and downs, tiredness, fatigue, or an inability to cope with the problems or stresses of everyday life, which can be the source of disability.
Some examples of mental disorders are:
- Anxiety disorders (panic attacks, phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / OCD).
- Mood disorders (bipolar disorder or depressive disorder).
- Psychotic disorders (delusional or paranoid disorders and schizophrenia).
- Personality disorders.
- Antisocial Disorder (TASP), psychopathy or sociopathy.
Greater risk of social and employment discrimination
People who suffer from invisible disabilities can suffer more active discrimination, violations of their basic rights or come up against negative attitudes by people who do not know their situation or who are outside their usual environment.
In fact, people with non-visible disabilities not only have to face the difficulties inherent to their condition, but they also have to fight against misunderstanding, discrimination and prejudice, and many times they must continuously justify themselves when carrying out actions of their day to day . Sometimes the members of this group are forced to constantly show medical reports or have the proof of disability card in sight, which affects their state of mind and limits their autonomy and independence.
In the case of people on the autism spectrum, they suffer from a type of disability that makes it difficult for them to maintain constructive social relationships and that causes them all kinds of problems, both in their self-care and when finding a job or maintaining personal relationships or a stable support network.
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