The term “Hidden Disability,” also known as “Invisible Disability” and “Unseen Disability,” refers to anyone who is suffering from a disability that is not immediately apparent. While there are too many of these conditions to list, some common examples include: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Fibromyalgia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), learning disabilities, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Cystic Fibrosis (CF).
Although the disability creates challenges for the person who has it, it can be difficult for others to recognize or acknowledge those challenges if they cannot see evidence of them in a visible way. For example, someone with chronic pain may be unable to sit for long periods; or an employee with narcolepsy may be uncomfortable driving.
People with some kinds of hidden disabilities, such as chronic pain or sleep disorders, are often accused of faking or imagining their disabilities and thus may be hesitant to share them. Employees are also often reluctant to disclose hidden disabilities at work for fear that their employer, manager or coworkers will treat them differently, especially if those conditions have a stigma attached to them as with mental illness or HIV/AIDS.
For these reasons, it is critical for organizations to create an inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable telling their truth.