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Let’s Talk About Unseen Disabilities

In this instalment of 'Let's Talk About Disability', we are talking about unseen disabilities.

Did you know, over 90% of disabilities at Warwick are unseen! The Equality Act considers any long term condition that has a substantial impact on the person to be a disability. But how aware are we that the majority of those disabilities are unseen?

The overwhelming majority of the disabilities that staff and students have disclosed at Warwick are 'unseen':

Not familiar with this instalment's theme? Find out more by clicking below:

What is an unseen disability?

An unseen disability is a disability that may not be immediately obvious. This may be referred to as an unseen, hidden, or invisible disability.

They can include medical, sensory, neurodevelopmental, social, learning, speech, mental health and other types of disabilities. They include, but are not limited to, autism and Asperger syndrome, cognitive impairments such as learning difficulties and dementia, as well as mental health conditions and speech, visual impairments, or hearing loss. They also include respiratory and chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, chronic pain and sleep disorders when these significantly impact day-to-day life.

  • Over 91% of disclosed staff disabilities are hidden
  • Over 97% of disclosed student disabilities are hidden

This is consistent with global figures too - globally 1 in 7 of us live with a disability, and of those, 80% are invisible. That is 1 billion people who are living with a non-visible disability.

People experience disabilities in a very personal and individual way. This makes it even more important for all of us to increase our awareness and work together, helping Warwick to be inclusive and accessible to all.


Stories from our community

Learn more by reading the personal story of a staff member below and of a student in this blog - My Experiences as a Student Dealing with an Invisible Disability.

"Having fibromyalgia feels like my body has been taken away from me, and has been replaced with a totally different one that is constantly in pain and reacts strangely to everything!

I was on my honeymoon in August 2016 and became ill with fever, muscle aches and widespread pain, and I have not got better since.

On returning home I was checked for various tropical diseases, and after many tests, it was determined I had an unknown virus and was suffering post-viral fatigue. A frightening and a frustrating six months later, with a worsening in symptoms, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. This is a diagnosis of exclusion – this is the diagnosis you have after repeated blood tests, scans and assessments, and everything else has been ruled out.

My route to diagnosis it turns out, is actually fairly typical. It usually follows a significant event, such as a wedding or the birth of a child, or a traumatic experience, such as a car accident. The medical cause is still not known, but it appears that the nervous system becomes reset or hyper-sensitised, as it registers pain where there is no tissue damage. This does not mean the pain is imaginary – brain scans of people with fibromyalgia have shown a response that is similar to people with fractured bones. However in fibromyalgia, the brain is causing this pain, and not a physical injury.

The effect of this illness was that overnight I changed from an active person to one that struggled with mobility and became limited in everything I do by chronic pain. It feels as if I have flu every day. People don’t believe me when I say that, as if it is not possible to live with flu every day. But that bone-aching tiredness, the extreme sensitivity, the debilitating headaches, and the feeling that you have no idea how you are going to get out of bed or have a shower, as it just seems impossible that you have the energy to move, is how I feel every day. The pain also keeps me awake at night, and so disturbed, limited sleep has unfortunately become normal.

Fibromyalgia is also a condition that likes to embarrass you. Throughout the day I will have moments of high temperatures and sweating, followed by feeling freezing and shivering. I get shooting electrical pains down my arms and legs that can make me suddenly very clumsy and uncoordinated, and I can be extremely sensitive to touch so that a hug can be incredibly painful. Sometimes I have been in so much pain from someone touching me that I am convinced that they have broken a bone. Another exasperating symptom is ‘fibro fog’, where you can become incredibly forgetful. This has caused no end of awkward moments – such as completely forgetting my address when going to vote, being unable to remember my date of birth, and forgetting the alarm code to my house when trying to get back in!

Fibromyalgia has no cure and it is a life-long condition. The only option is to manage it. Pacing is a recommended approach, whereby you intersperse short periods of activity with rest, in order to prevent the ‘pay-back’ from too much exertion (a flare up of pain symptoms). I cope through acting as if I was normal, and planning how I’m going to get through just the next hour. Concentrating on just one hour I find more manageable, rather than a whole day which seems overwhelming. What has helped me most is swimming and hydrotherapy sessions with a physiotherapist and a group of fellow chronic pain sufferers. These have shown me that my body is still capable of some things. During lockdown, being without these has been akin to suddenly stopping a successful medicine, and I have been left feeling unable to manage the spikes in pain.

Fibromyalgia forces you to take life at a slower pace, which 4 years on, is still difficult accept.

More information on fibromyalgia can be found here."

Rachel Evans


Sunflower lanyards

Wearing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard is a discreet way to choose to make the invisible visible. It discreetly indicates to people that the wearer may need additional support, help or a little more time.

Wellbeing

Find wellbeing support for staff and students:

Library accessibility

The Library and IT Services offer a range of accessibility features, including:

  • Assistive software and productivity tools can improve your e-reading accessibility.
  • Try watching the Library e-book video playlist to find out how you can adjust and improve an e-book's appearance.
  • Students can register with RNIB Bookshare, an online educational Library with over 600,000 titles in accessible formats which can be used alongside assistive software. Eligibility isn’t limited to people with a visual impairment; Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and physical disabilities are included too.

The Library also offers a range of services and support, including bookable accessible and sensory study rooms, where students can adjust their sensory environment to their own individual preferences.

Digital accessibility

Accessible webpages are ones which are really easy to read (readability) and are built well for people who might use assistive technology to access them. Find out more about making your webpages fully accessible for our audiences.

Students' Union

Find out more about the work of the Students' Union Disabled Students’ Officer and Warwick Enable - the disability liberation and campaigning society on campus for disabled students, their friends, allies and carers or enablers, and anyone who is passionate about disability and inclusivity.

Staff Network

Join the Disabled Staff Network. The network is open to all staff members with an interest in making the University a more accessible place for all and creating a more inclusive environment.

Adjustments

Get adjustments to support you in your work or studies.

  • Adjustments for staff: MAP is a tool to help you to have meaningful and confidential conversations with your line manager or other University representative.
  • Adjustments for students: Disability Services can support you to access a range of adjustments, exam arrangements, advice, and one to one study skills support.

BDF resources

As members of the Business Disability Forum, the University has access to a range of Member Resources including toolkits, factsheets, case studies, videos, and webinars to help you understand more about how to be disability inclusive. Just sign up with your University email address to get a free account.

Membership also grants us unlimited access to BDF's confidential Advice Service, a team of expert advisers who are enthusiastic about improving disabled people’s experiences of employment and users of services.