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It is estimated that 70-80% of disabilities are invisible. There are a wide range of impairments or conditions not necessarily visible to others, which are not limited to, but include: mental health conditions; autism and other neurodivergences, cognitive impairments; hearing, vision and speech impairments; and energy-limiting conditions (such as fibromyalgia). Because an invisible disability is not outwardly observable, they may face disregard or disbelief of their disability. They may experience difficulties participating in work and education and in accessing the services and support they need. Disabled people can have both non-visible and visible impairments, or impairments that are only visible in certain circumstances or settings. 

Key points:  

  • Research is mostly focused on disability overall or specific conditions, rather than what could be described as invisible disabilities. As a result, there appears to be limited evidence for the most effective strategies to increase awareness, inclusion, and support of people with invisible disabilities. 
  • Lack of understanding and stigma from others creates consistent barriers in the lives of people with invisible disabilities. Those with invisible disabilities have dilemmas over whether to disclose their disability, due to concerns about disbelief, stigma, or confidentiality. They may need to balance the potential risks of disclosure with their need for support.  
  • Many people with invisible disabilities report unequal opportunities and difficulties accessing the services and support they need. They have reported challenges in access and inclusion in employment and in higher education and further education. Difficulties accessing other public services and infrastructure, such as transport and health and social care, can also impact disabled people’s ability to participate in work and education. 
  • Removing societal barriers for people with invisible disabilities enables them to participate in civil life, including work and education, which would have social and economic benefits.  
  • Improving awareness and understanding of invisible disability may reduce stigma and exclusionary practices, and support self-identification and disclosure. Strategies suggested by stakeholders include training and reciprocal mentoring schemes, as well as improved representation in the media and senior management and hiring roles. Developing recruitment, induction and onboarding, and retention processes, has also been suggested.  
  • Accessibility standards that address barriers in built and online environments may improve access and inclusion. Stakeholders indicate that inclusive design should consider sensory and informational barriers to access, as well as including online access to events and services post-pandemic as a standard in accessibility guidelines. 
  • Stakeholders suggest adjusting the structure of organisations, programmes, which could help people with invisible disabilities in accessing supports and services. Other measures suggested include updating policy and guidance with examples of less recognised invisible disabilities and examples of non-physical adjustments. Encouraging flexible working and learning arrangements could also improve access to work and education. The proposed adjustment passports’ could also be used to support transitions into work and education, and could avoid repeated disclosure. 


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer-reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

Members of the POST Board*

Akudo Amadiegwu, University of Essex* 

Dr Kusha Anand, University College London* 

Professor Andrew Bateman, University of Essex* 

Burcu Borysik, Crohn’s & Colitis UK 

Professor Kim Burton, University of Huddersfield 

Getting Things Changed, University of Bristol* 

Dr Daniel Crepaz-Keay, The Mental Health Foundation* 

Dr Daniel Derbyshire, The Inclusivity Project, University of Exeter* 

The Nuffield Foundation* 

Robert Gill, Scope 

Dr Christine Grant, Coventry University* 

Catherine Hale, Astriid* 

Dr Paula Holland, Lancaster University* 

Professor Kim Hoque, King’s Business School* 

Professor Divya Jindal-Snape, University of Dundee 

Norbert Liekfeldt, East London NHS Trust 

Professor Neil Lunt, University of York 

Dr Keren MacLennan, Durham University* 

Angela Matthews, Business Disability Forum 

Dr Cara Molyneux, University of Leeds* 

Dr Amanda Moore, University College London* 

Dr Vaughan Parsons, Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust 

Department for Work and Pensions* 

Gill Porter 

Professor Carol Rivas, University College London* 

David Ruttenberg, University College London 

Professor Roger Slee, University of Leeds 

Tumi Sotire 

Fran Springfield, Chronic Illness Inclusion UK* 

Heather Taylor, The Work Foundation* 

Disability Rights UK* 

Cabinet Office Disability Unit* 

Dr Matthew Wells, University of Essex* 

Kirsten Whiting, The Inclusivity Project, University of Exeter* 

*denotes individuals and organisations that acted as external reviews for this briefing. 


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