In this the first of a monthly series, Katherine Nickoll begins an exploration of the numerous hidden disabilities to find out what there is to love or hate about having a disability or chronic illness that is not immediately apparent.

Hidden disability is disability that is not immediately obvious. More people have hidden disabilities or chronic health conditions than have visible disabilities. In fact, visible disability is just the tip of the disability iceberg, or, as this is Liability Magazine, a more appropriate allegory may be the tip of the disability clitoris!

Hidden disability is so well hidden that after several hours searching I couldn’t find the statistics (if you can find them please let me know). But if I list just some of the conditions, then we begin the realise the enormous scale of hidden disability:


Neurological conditions

Brain injury

Autoimmune conditions

Mental health problems

Respiratory conditions

Digestive tract conditions

Chronic pain

Bones conditions


Learning disability

Learning difficulty

Autistic spectrum disorder

Skin conditions


Some sensory disability is not visible straightaway

Some people with diseases like cancer, leukemia, MND


The symptoms are just as numerous and can affect movement; thinking; talking; seeing; hearing; socialising; working; driving; eating; using the bathroom, every aspect of living… some people may be overwhelmed in crowds or by noise or light; some people may get muddled paying in a shop; some people may not be able to leave the house… the list is endless.

So, the conditions and symptoms are many but survivors share some challenges:


  1. Hidden Disability is often overlooked.
  2. We may have to “come out” as disabled, this can be daunting because…
  3. People negatively judge (especially if they can’t see the issue)


To be accessible doesn’t just mean a lift, a ramp or a hearing loop. To be accessible for all may mean making environmental; durational, cognitive; sensory or emotional adaptations.

Coming out can be a challenge – how and when to tell people at work, new friends, first date, third date? Not wanting to be judged or pitied. Not wanting it to define us.

I have on occasion when I have been in pain or borrowed a wheelchair, for my husband to push me round a supermarket because I have been too knackered to explain to him what groceries I want, or not wanted to miss an exhibition but have used all my spoons* getting to the museum. I know I get looks when I get out of the wheelchair and walk to the car, as my disability moves from visible to invisible. Yes, this wheelchair user can walk! I’m thick skinned enough not to care, but this may not be so for everyone.

Next time you’re in a hurry behind someone struggling in a shop, please don’t tut, be kind, there may be more to their story than you can see.


*See spoon theory:

If you have a hidden disability or health condition and would like to share your story with Katherine who may include it this series please email her at

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