Hidden Disability Symbol: Canada Movement
Author: Laura Brydges | Contact: Disabled World (Disabled-World.com)
Peer-Reviewed Publication: N/A
Library of Related Papers: Disability Awareness Publications
Synopsis: Hidden Disability Symbol Canada (HDSC) is urgently encouraging everyone to participate in a survey and give the hidden disability community the voice and recognition it needs and deserves. There are hundreds of conditions, illnesses and injuries that can result in a hidden disability - anemias, brain injuries and strokes, allergies, epilepsy, heart diseases, lung conditions, mental illnesses, and chronic pain are just a few examples. There are more people with hidden disabilities than there are people with apparent, or detectable, disabilities. Yet there is no research or statistical category to gather information about hidden disabilities collectively.
The Canadian Survey on Disability collects information about adults whose everyday activities are limited due to a condition or health-related problem. The data will be used to plan and evaluate services, programs and policies. The survey is sponsored by Employment and Social Development Canada. Disabled Canadians will have to live with the outcomes of the government's Disability Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP), probably for a very long time. It is imperative that Canadians provide insightful and useful responses to the DIAP survey.
Before you do the survey, we encourage you to test your own awareness of one disability group - the hidden, or invisible, disability community. This is a diverse group of individuals who live with one or more disabling conditions that are not readily apparent. This means that in a typical conversation or interaction you would not see or hear anything that would tell you that they have a disability. No white cane, no cough, no limp or wheelchair, no hearing aids.
What is Meant by Hidden Disabilities?
There are hundreds of conditions, illnesses and injuries that can result in a hidden disability - anemias, brain injuries and strokes, allergies, epilepsy, heart diseases, lung conditions, mental illnesses, and chronic pain are just a few examples. Yet, although we are all aware of these individual conditions, there is much to be learned about the shared needs and experiences of the hidden disability community as the unique group that it is.
There are more people with hidden disabilities than there are people with apparent, or detectable, disabilities. Yet there is no research or statistical category to gather information about hidden disabilities collectively. Resultingly, there is also no incentive to do research or develop best practices to address the needs of the hidden disability community.
Hidden disabilities often result in pain, physical and cognitive fatigue, memory and learning issues, sensory processing difficulties, lack of focus, and lethargy. These symptoms are often triggered by tasks and environments that are too complex, too intense, or too long in duration. These factors are often not considered to be disability-related barriers, and go unaddressed -- making jobs difficult to get, and keeping the hidden disability community socially and financially marginalized.
Barriers and Spaces
Ramps, closed captioning, and automatic door openers are effective and necessary accessibility measures. But members of the hidden disability community need additional types of inclusion measures such as quieter places, controlled lighting, fewer distractions, and more flexible deadlines, to name just a few.
Together these issues translate into a world where members of the hidden disability community are, at best, criticized and excluded from places, events and situations; and, at worst, face disproportionate levels of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.
Hidden Disability Symbol Canada (HDSC) is urgently encouraging everyone to participate in a federal Disability Inclusion Action Plan survey before it closes on August 31, and to give the hidden disability community the voice and recognition it needs and deserves. This movement has petitioned the Government of Canada to adopt and promote a national Hidden Disability Symbol, and is asking Canadians to sign an open letter with the same request.
"Since hidden disabilities, such as low vision, heart conditions, mental illness, and chronic pain are not readily apparent, they often get forgotten," explains Laura Brydges, Co-Founder of the HDSC movement. "Generally, we think about disabilities we can see and hear, such as blindness, and mobility and communication-related conditions. But this really is just a small portion of the disability community."
According to this 16-year member of and proponent for the hidden disability community, Brydges adds:
"The hidden disability community is recognized by the United Nations as being larger than the detectable disability community, and is growing due to the long-term effects of public health issues such as COVID-19 and Lyme Disease." Brydges also explains that, despite its size, there is not much research into the experiences and needs of the hidden disability community as a whole. "While many people with hidden disabilities face suspicion and accusations of malingering, others face very serious marginalization issues of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and criminalization."
Michelle McDonald, Executive Director of Brain Injury Canada reacts:
"Unfortunately this is all true. Society has made some investments into detectable disabilities, but due to the hidden nature of many disabilities, individuals are further isolated and marginalized."
McDonald explains that this is why Brain Injury Canada believes that there is a real need for a national hidden disability symbol that could act as an awareness tool that has the potential to address existing systemic inequities.
McDonald and Brydges are co-founders of the Hidden Disability Symbol Canada (HDSC) movement, along with the Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST). BIST's Communication Manager, Meri Perra is excited about the possibility of a such a symbol.
"I know how valuable a national hidden disability symbol would be to many of the brain injury survivors we work with. It would give them their own self-advocacy tool, while also symbolizing Canada's commitment to its hidden disability community."
Brydges points out that there are hundreds of conditions and illnesses that can result in a hidden disability.
"Everyone knows or cares for someone who has a hidden disability. So please do the survey. Mention the hidden disability community, and ask for a national hidden disability symbol in Canada."
This Has to Change
It is time for Canada to adopt a national Hidden Disability Symbol to be used as a self-advocacy tool, and as a tool to effect social, cultural and systemic changes toward improved inclusion of the hidden disability community. This is the goal of the Hidden Disability Symbol Canada movement (hdscanada.wordpress.com) which has already presented a petition to the House of Commons, and is collecting signatures on an Open Letter to the Government of Canada.
A national Hidden Disability Symbol will build awareness of the needs of the hidden disability community, and will be a self-advocacy tool for its members when they are least able to speak for themselves, such as when they become overwhelmed by too much noise or activity in places such as restaurants, by fatigue or pain when a task or meeting goes too long, or by intense interactions or demands.
So please mention the hidden disability community in your survey responses and mention the need for the Government of Canada to adopt and promote a national Hidden Disability Symbol. The Disability Inclusion Action survey is open until August 31, 2021, and may be accessed through HDSC movement's website, hdscanada.wordpress.com, or at the Canadian Government Engagement on the Disability Inclusion Action Plan web site.
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About Laura Brydges
Laura Brydges is a 16-year member of, and proponent for, the hidden disability community. She is a co-founder of the Hidden Disability Symbol Canada movement, along with the Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) and Brain Injury Canada (BIC).
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