An invisible disability, also called non-visible disabilities or hidden disabilities, refers to any disability that cannot be observed physically. Examples include mental health conditions, sensory impairments, cognitive impairment, autism and Asperger syndrome, autoimmune diseases and neurological disorders. As of December 2020, 20-21% of adults in the UK reported having a disability (14 million people). Leeds university estimates that approximately 70% of these disabilities are invisible.

Discrimination against people with disabilities is illegal under the Equality Act 2010. However, many disabled people report unequal opportunities in their everyday life. For example, people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of crime, face periods of unemployment and are, on average, paid less. Disabled people are also more likely to report lower ratings of wellbeing, higher ratings of feeling lonely and are less likely to take part in leisure activities or civic participation. People with invisible disabilities face additional challenges through a lack of support and understanding of their conditions because their disability is not outwardly observable. In June 2021, the Government published a report analysing the results of a UK wide disability survey. The findings indicate that invisible disabilities are a significant area of concern for disabled people, carers, and other members of the public. Key areas raised include financial support, adjustments in the workplace, and lack of awareness and social understanding. People with invisible disabilities may be unwilling to ask for support because of fear of stigma, understanding and acceptance.

A POSTnote in this area will provide an overview of the main types of invisible disabilities and the different mental, physical, and social challenges people with invisible disabilities experience. It will review employment rights and workplace adjustments as well as evidence on interventions and schemes aimed at reducing discrimination and increasing support for people with invisible disabilities. It will also consider how changes in the workplace, such as increased remote and hybrid working, could present opportunities to increase workplace accessibility in the longer-term.


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