International Day of People with Disabilities 2020: not all disabilities are visible

Posted on: 26 November 2020

The 3rd December is International Day of People with Disabilities. This year, the theme is ‘Not all Disabilities are Visible’ and focuses on spreading awareness and understanding of disabilities that are not immediately apparent. This includes things such as mental illness, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairments, diabetes, brain injuries, neurological disorders, learning differences and cognitive dysfunctions, among others.

It is important to recognise we cannot always see a disability. Disability is not always visible. Adapting our behaviours, the ways we work and how we communicate to make sure we are inclusive to all has never been more important.

Throughout the pandemic, isolation, disconnect, disrupted routines and diminished services have greatly impacted the lives and mental well-being of people with disabilities right around the world. Spreading awareness of invisible disabilities, as well as these potentially detrimental— and not always immediately apparent— impacts to mental health, is crucial as the world continues to fight against the virus.

Case studies, blogs, stats and more information about unseen disabilities

Leeds Autism AIM have put together a series of blog posts and short videos from autistic adults in the Leeds area about their experiences during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

"With this year being dominated by Coronavirus and how it has affected disabled people among others, we aim to show the wider world what it is like to be autistic during a pandemic. We would like to share autistic people’s experiences, both bad and good to show that we are affected by it as much as any other community."

Visit the Leeds Autism AIM website to read the blogs and watch the videos

People with a disability struggled to get reasonable adjustments made to new temporary Covid-19 related processes. This meant the delivery of their care was not reflective of their needs, and in some cases, created physical health impacts. This included an expectation that people were able to access online information and services, when for some older people or people with disabilities, this was not accessible.

The health and care experiences of people living in Calderdale during the Covid-19 outbreak

Hearing loss and deafness is an unseen disability. In the UK, there is approx. 10 million people (1 in 6) who have a hearing loss; approx. 70,000 of those are profoundly deaf whose primary language is British Sign Language. British Sign Language is a visual language and comprises of signs accompanied by facial expression and lip pattern.

Deafness is on the increase this is largely due to deafness being associated with age and people living longer.

Deaf people are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. This is because it can increase isolation and make it harder to take part in everyday activities, as well as making it harder to access healthcare. Dementia has been linked to hearing loss.

Social and work situations can be both exhausting and daunting for anyone with hearing loss, as they struggle to try to follow conversations that are often in a noisy setting and all too often simply give up.

For the millions of people living with deafness or hearing loss, whole communities wearing facemasks presents a barrier to communication and a risk of being exposed to inaccessible safety information. Someone talking may not realise the person they are talking to is Deaf or hard of hearing and relying on lip-reading to communicate and the Deaf person may not even realise that they are being spoken to or warned of a risk to their health or safety.

To be able to communicate effectively the Deaf person must be able to clearly see the mouth and lips of the person they are communicating with. It is impossible to communicate effectively or accurately while wearing a facemask.

BSL Deaf People are having trouble in accessing information about the COVID 19 Pandemic; updates are not signed in BSL and therefore unaware of the health implications of the virus if they or people they share their home have symptoms or contract it. To contact healthcare providers is often inaccessible to many Deaf people.

During the Covid 19 Pandemic Interpreters Now, Health Access has come to the rescue and a BSL Deaf person confident in using their smart phone or other device can access healthcare and communication.

This is what Hilary did when she suffered a heart attack that resulted in surgery and a stent fitted during the first lockdown. Hilary had to contact her son to phone the ambulance and during her stay in hospital, there was no access to a BSL Interpreter to translate what was going on and therefore was not in control of any medical decisions.

Since her discharge from hospital she learned about Interpreters Now, Heath Access and has used her smart phone to contact her GP several times when she experienced issues with the medication she was prescribed. She feels much more supported and less anxious now she uses this valuable service.

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