by Laura Brydges, Hidden Disability Advocate

I have been a member of the hidden disability community since a car accident in 2005 left me in chronic pain, and with a traumatic brain injury. As someone who is able to walk, talk, see, and hear, yet easily becomes overwhelmed by pain, motion, noise, and cognitive demands, I understand the barriers and challenges faced by members of the hidden disability community on a daily basis. Barriers that impact our cognitive, durational, emotional and psychological, environmental, and sensory functioning.

That is why I developed the Hidden Disability Symbol and the Episodic Disability Symbol.

Logo developped to visually identify a hidden disability Logo developed to visually identify an episodic disability

When faced with a challenging environment or situation, showing the Hidden Disability Symbol simplifies making a request for assistance, accommodation, or access. In short, it speaks for me when I am least able to speak for myself.

And I know I am not alone for needing a self-advocacy tool like this symbol. In my 2010 online survey the vast majority — 95% — of 324 participants reported avoiding places, events and situations due to one or more hidden disabilities:

  • 20% at least every day
  • 37% almost every day
  • 25% once or twice a week

Of note, 80% of this group considered the Hidden Disability Symbol as helpful when they need to ask for assistance

In 2016, I conducted a follow up survey among a small sample of 57 individuals who use the Hidden Disability Symbol. They reported that using the symbol helped them:

  • feel better understood (74%)
  • be treated better (54%)
  • feel more confident (51%).

The symbols are designed to be flexible and personalized, so the information can be changed to suit every individual’s needs, or when privacy is wanted, no information needs to be provided.

The symbol is currently being used in a variety of ways, including wallet cards, signs, screen savers, car decals, wrist bands, and tattoos.

In the long term I truly hope that the symbols will contribute to the equitable inclusion of the hidden and episodic disability community, and serve to increase social and organizational awareness, knowledge and understanding of our needs. For example, organizations can use the symbols as part of inclusive branding and recruitment. Employers can use the symbol to identify an employee’s need for accommodation(s)— while respecting the right for privacy regarding personal health information. And voluntary use of the Hidden Disability Symbol on official and personal identification could help identify someone’s needs for assistance, access, or accommodations in emergencies.

To get your free digital Hidden Disability Symbol file scan the QR code below, go to Hidden Disability on Facebook, or copy it or the Episodic Disability Symbol directly from this post.

The Hidden/Episodic Disability Symbol may be reproduced, but may not be used for profit, retail, or commercial purposes. The Hidden/Episodic Disability Symbol, and all its elements, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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