CWU Equality Month: What does the term ‘hidden disability’ really mean?

Union Matters

In this first week of Equality Month, we’re publishing a series of articles focussing on the fight for fairness for people with disabilities, written by CWU activists.

Today, in the third of these, Scottish Regional learning lead Mel Gorrie asks: ‘What does the term ‘hidden disability’ really mean’?…

For some people, the term ‘hidden disability’ can be something quite mythical: ‘Is a disability really a disability if it isn’t physical’? they may ask themselves, or: ‘Can it really be that they can affect you every day’? Today, it is something often spoken about, especially when, in the context of the pandemic, someone is not wearing a mask in a shop.

There are assumptions that asthma is ‘not that bad unless you have a big attack’, and attitudes to cystic fibrosis can be similar. If you are diabetic, ‘well, you have insulin’, chronic fatigue syndrome is ‘because you are really just lazy’.

If someone has a mental health condition? ‘Just give yourself a shake and you’ll be fine. If your condition is that bad that you cannot wear a mask? ‘Stay at home and get an online delivery instead’.

Unfortunately, these are just a few thoughts people have on some of the more commonly known hidden disabilities.

What about people with autism? The autism spectrum varies so much that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ here – autism has many triggers.

While you are adjusting to autism within your household, you can change things accordingly, introduce light dimmers and decorating can help with sensory issues.

Everyone assumes it is the sound sensory only and that noise-cancelling headphones solve this problem. My son is autistic, he was exactly three-and-a-half years old before he even slept through the night. He does not adjust well to changes and, at the age of 11, when we moved home, we had another nine months of him rising through the night three times each night.

My son is sensory to loud or sharp noises, smells, bright colours and he needs to know exactly what each day will consist of and will only wear jogging bottoms and T-shirts, no jumpers.

This is the tip of the iceberg for some of the challenges we face daily. Diagnosis is a lengthy process, nearly two years for his initial assessment and nearly another two for full diagnosis. In the meantime, there is very little support to help.

You have to balance if it is worth spending a lot of money on a day out or holiday. You think: ‘What if he doesn’t like it and needs to leave as soon as we get there’? Or: ‘What if he just runs away from me in an area he doesn’t know’?

Then you get the looks, the unspoken words: ‘You should control your child’, and ‘spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum’, or ‘clearly anger issues there’. Some people are very quick to offer judgement.

Unfortunately, even your loved ones think this. There is not enough understanding out there and still a lot of old-fashioned thoughts that have not changed. I have done NVQ courses on Understanding Autism and Challenging Behaviour in Children through the CWU for free. Without this, I believe there is no way I would have been able to cope otherwise.

Hidden disabilities are real. There is no quick or instant fix. People need to open their minds, learn more about the conditions and appreciate everyone for their unique traits.

This March is Equality Month at CWU and we will be hosting a range of events, workshops and courses to celebrate. See the full programme here (some details to be added throughout the month) and register for our online events. Our first webinar will be Reasonable Adjustments and PPE tomorrow 4th March – 6.30-7.30pm. Details below:

Reasonable Adjustments & PPE Webinar

Thursday, 4th March – 6.30-7.30pm

Chaired by Ruth Meadows (Wales Region LGBT+ Lead, IR Rep)

Panellists: Mark Anthony Bastiani (NEC Disability Lead), Carl Maden (Acting Assistant Secretary Postal), Tracey Fussey (NEC T&FS), Dave Joyce (CWU National Health & Safety Officer)

Register in advance for this webinar:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.