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Persons with Hidden Mobility Disability (HMD) Facts and Statistics

  • Publish Date : 2017/03/24 - (Rev. 2017/10/19)
  • Author : Service-Growth Consultants Inc.
  • Contact : servicegrowth.com


HMD Fact Sheet summarizes findings from the first round of qualified individuals who completed the online Survey on Hidden Mobility Disabilities.

Main Document

First ever research into lived experience of persons with hidden mobility disabilities (HMD) - i.e., able to walk independently but only for a short distance and able to stand unsupported but only for a brief time.

Persons with a hidden mobility disability (HMD) are independently mobile but can only walk a short distance or stand unsupported for a brief time without serious health consequences.

Over 2 million Americans & Canadians have HMD.

While HMD is more frequent with aging, people of all ages have HMD and the consequences are similar for all ages.

Comfortable distance to walk unaided:

  • 35 feet is walkable for most ["short distance"]
  • 70 feet is walkable for 56%

Walking is more effortful on slopes, unstable or uneven ground (like grass), going up/down stairs.

Comfortable time to stand unaided:

  • 1-2 minutes is possible for most ["brief time"]
  • 5 minutes is possible for 66%

Common health conditions resulting in HMD:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Back, disc, vertebrae problems
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Diabetes
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart disease
  • Hip or knee injuries
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Neuropathy
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Stroke

Reactions to a person with HMD walking slowly:

  • 45% Ignored, as though invisible
  • 30% Asked if the person needed help
  • 20% Treated with anger or irritation

Consequences of walking too far:

  • 76% Increased joint pain
  • 52% Walk more slowly until almost not moving
  • 45% Increased difficulty breathing
  • 42% Have trouble walking at all the next day
  • 39% Begin to stagger and lose balance
  • 31% Become immobilized by pain
  • 27% Increased muscle spasms

21% can't use anti-inflammatories to manage pain.

Difficulties in community life:

  • 83% Attending events where everyone stands
  • 78% Having to stand in line for service
  • 76% Shopping at a supermarket or mall
  • 55% Using public transportation
  • 43% Entering buildings with parking 35 ft. away
  • 42% Check-in counter 35+ ft. from entrance


  • Resist walking further than comfortable
  • Ask to sit down for service
  • Ask for wheelchair assistance in airports
  • Pause frequently to sit and recuperate

Examples of how to improve accessibility:

  • Assume "short distance" means 35 feet
  • Ensure horizontal, smooth, stable walkway
  • Replace waiting lines with numbers
  • Provide seated options for service
  • Provide seating while waiting for elevators
  • Provide seating in building lobbies near doors
  • Provide seating every 35 ft. in long corridors
  • Hold seated public consultations
  • Provide public parking within 35 feet
  • Place disabled parking within 20 ft. of elevator

This Fact Sheet is based on results from the Survey on Hidden Mobility Disabilities, January-March 2017, which are reliable within ± 4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

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