This Disability History Month (18 November – 18 December) the focus has turned to non-visible disabilities. Staff at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals have shared on camera – some for the first time – their experiences of living with a non-visible condition – an impairment that is not immediately obvious to others.
It is estimated that 70 to 80 per cent of the 14m disabled people in the UK have a non-visible condition. Non-visible disabilities – also known as invisible disabilities and hidden disabilities – cover a broad spectrum of conditions ranging from depression to bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue and chronic pain, and vision and hearing impairments to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
Exploring how we might re-think disability in a work environment, ‘More than meets the eye’ is a series of short films that tell the personal stories of staff members’ lived experiences of non-visible conditions, how they have navigated barriers and disability stigmas in the workplace, and why visible and non-visible disabilities are not always mutually exclusive.
Please note: closed captions for the film can be enabled by pressing the 'cc' button on the video menu.
The first film in the series – launched today on the International Day of Disabled Persons – introduces Camilla Mills, therapy assistant practitioner, and Ras Kahai, cardiorespiratory dietitian, who as co-chairs of Royal Brompton and Harefield’s staff Disability and Wellness Network (DAWN) are all too aware of the challenges disabled staff face. Camilla and Ras set out what non-visible disabilities are, how the absence of physical evidence can affect how people respond to, acknowledge and understand non-visible disabilities, and why the choice to conceal or reveal a hidden condition remains a cause for concern for many disabled people.
“A big part of hidden disabilities is people not wanting to disclose or not feeling they can disclose or what it means to disclose [their disability], which is something we want to improve across the hospitals so that, should people want to, they feel safe to do so, and feel as if they know how – that there’s a safe space for that to happen,” says Camilla.
Fear of stigma, workplace judgement and bullying are commonly cited as some of the reasons why people might choose not to disclose a disability. For Ras, helping to disband these fears is everyone’s responsibility: “We should be wanting to create an inclusive environment, and that should be really important so that people feel safe and feel like they can talk about their disability – because it actually might mean a lot to [others] as well – and ask for that help and support.”
Films from the ‘More than meets the eye’ series will be published throughout Disability History Month.