Blog by Lily McDermaid, Disabilities Officer

This week is Invisible Disabilities Week, an annual campaign celebrated during 14 – 20 October. Over the course of this week, several articles written by students will be published on the Wessex Scene in order to share their experiences and shed some light on what living with an invisible disability or illness is like. Head on over to wessexscene.co.uk to read these articles and please share articles so as many people as possible can hear the important messages behind this awareness campaign. Feel free to get in touch with Lily McDermaid, Disabilities Officer for SUSU, via Laura Barr (VP Welfare and Communities) or vpwelfare@susu.org if you’re interested in getting involved in future disability awareness campaigns.

An invisible disability is one that might go unnoticed if you weren’t told about a person’s condition. These can include things like fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, brain injuries, chronic fatigue, arthritis and POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). You might also hear these referred to as chronic illnesses as they remain relatively constant and might be quite long-term. There are also ongoing debates as to whether things like autism are a disability, something to be medicalised or simply examples of neurodivergence – the idea that celebrates the fact that not everyone thinks in the same way.

Some people with invisible disabilities may, from time to time, use some form of aid that means their condition is more visible. However, when such a person doesn’t use an aid, they still face a lot of the difficulties they would when they do require such an aid, but with none of the acceptance and understanding. Lots of young people, even when using mobility aids, still experience prejudice when taking up a priority seat on a bus or parking in a disabled bay. 

But if a person can’t make it to something or can’t put their normal level of effort into something because of a condition, they might be branded as lazy, unreliable or flaky. People should be more aware that others might need to manage their condition or prioritise different things as trying to meet other people’s standards of health simply isn’t sustainable. If you can’t make it to 9am lectures because of a condition, it’s not the same as being lazy. Or if you could make it to that lecture but couldn’t focus, it’s not the same as not trying or not paying attention. Sometimes, the best decision for a person with an invisible disability may seem out of the ordinary but might mean that they can still function for the next few days or that they can avoid unnecessary hassle. 

Circumstances are definitely improving for people with invisible disabilities. It’s now easier to apply for Blue Badges when a condition is not visible, stickers in trains and buses are more encompassing and venues up and down the country are training their staff to be more understanding of those with invisible disabilities. However, on the whole, society’s attitudes towards invisible disability have a long way to go. The expectation that a young, ‘healthy-looking’ person will always be healthy is harmful and degrading. Expectations like this one can leave people stuck somewhere between being ‘healthy’ and ‘disabled’, struggling to feel validated by either side. 

I became Disabilities Officer for SUSU so that I could help reduce these feelings of invalidation in other people like me. In the meantime, awareness events like these will help to educate those around us and make life a little easier for those affected.

Here at SUSU, we will continue to support new initiatives to help those with invisible disabilities enjoy their experience at University and in the wider world.

Our new sunflower badges will be launched in The Shop and at SUSU Reception (Building 42) this week, and are 50p each. These badges are for people who have an invisible disability or chronic illness so that people can recognise that they might need to give them a bit more understanding or support.

Staff members around SUSU will soon be wearing #ExpectRespect badges to signify that they have had relevant training and are safe people to talk to if you have a problem or need some extra support.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about this awareness week or any other relevant matter.

VP Welfare and Communities: vpwelfare@susu.org
The Advice Centre: advice@susu.org // 023 8059 2085
Enabling Services: enable@soton.ac.uk // +44(0)23 8059 7726

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