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Raising awareness of hidden disabilities

1 in 5 people have a disability in the UK alone, 80% of those have an invisible disability which is not immediately apparent to others or they may have a combination of both visible and hidden disabilities.

Hidden disabilities can range from visual, physical, auditory or neurological disabilities. From autism and ADHD to cognitive impairments such as dementia, learning disabilities as well as various mental health conditions. They can also be respiratory and chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, chronic pain and sleeping disorders as well as sensory loss such as speech impairment, sight loss, hearing loss, or deafness.

Hidden disabilities in more depth

Mental health conditions 

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England with the overall number of people that are reporting mental health problems increasing in recent years. 

mental health awareness

Anyone can have a mental health problem, some of the following are the most common conditions:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Mixed anxiety and depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder

Other, more complex mental health conditions could be: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Bipolar, Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) and schizophrenia. 

Neurological disabilities

autism ribbon

Neurological disorders come from a dysfunction of the brain or nervous system. Some examples of hidden neurological disabilities are:

  • Autism / Aspergers syndrome
  • ADHD / ADD
  • Learning disabilities
  • Dyslexia
  • Epilepsy
  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Brain tumours 
  • Cerebral Palsy 

Sensory loss / processing difficulties

woman fitting a hearing aid

Sensory loss or impairment is the broad term used to describe conditions such as deafness, blindness, visual impairment, hearing impairment and deafblindness. Sensory loss is when one or more of your 5 senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste) does not function properly.

Cognitive impairment

If someone has cognitive impairment they struggle with mental abilities such as remembering things, learning new things, concentrating, language problems and making decisions in their everyday life without help. Dementia and Alzheimers disease are just two examples of cognitive impairment.

Non-visible physical health conditions

woman with chronic pain

There are various types of physical disabilities which are non-visible. Diabetes type 1 and type 2 are both invisible disabilities, as is asthma.

The conditions which result in chronic pain are also hidden disabilities. Crohn’s disease, Colitis, Coeliac disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Endometriosis and Multiple Sclerosis all class as an invisible disability. Long Covid could now even class as a hidden disability, symptoms are wide ranging and some can be quite severe. 

Speech and communication disorders

Some forms of speech and communication disabilities are:

  • Aphasia
  • Stuttering
  • Tourette’s syndrome 

How to identify a person with hidden disabilities or make others aware

Daily life for a person with hidden disabilities can be more challenging but, without visual cues, it can be difficult for others to identify, acknowledge or understand the barriers they might face or that they have a disability at all.


The sunflower is a widely recognised symbol for non-visible / hidden disabilities. Most people with a hidden disability will wear the sunflower lanyard, others may carry a sunflower card with them or wear a sunflower badge. The sunflower acts as a sign or an indication that the person wearing it may need extra help, support or patience from those around them. 

For more information on hidden disabilities or the sunflower symbol visit:

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