What are hidden disabilities?

Child on the autism spectrum wearing headphones

Some disabilities are clear to see and there are physical signs which make them immediately apparent to other people. However, many disabilities are not like this; around 80% of all disabilities are invisible. In Ireland, hidden disabilities are prevalent and impact a significant portion of the population. Some of the most common types of hidden disabilities in Ireland include:

  • Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
  • Neurodivergence, such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis can cause significant pain and discomfort but may not be immediately visible to others.
  • Conditions that cause vision and hearing loss, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and tinnitus, can also be hidden disabilities.
  • Learning disabilities like dyslexia and dyscalculia.
  • Brain injuries, such as concussions or traumatic brain injuries, can cause long-term cognitive and physical impairments.

Although having a visible disability can lead to stigmatisation and prejudice, having a hidden one can be just as challenging. Many people with a hidden disability are often not believed or treated with compassion because they “look fine”. A person living with chronic pain may look able-bodied, but they might struggle to do everyday tasks like walking for more than 10 minutes at a time, housework, or shopping.

Society still has a problematic one-dimensional view on disability, when in truth, the community is diverse and unique. It is important to recognise that invisible disabilities are just as valid as visible ones and can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life. It is crucial to listen to and believe people who disclose their hidden disabilities and to offer support and accommodations when needed.

We also need to break down the societal stigma surrounding disability and to understand that it does not equate to inability. People with disabilities have unique experiences, perspectives, and strengths that should be recognised and celebrated. Each individual’s experience can vary greatly.

Creating a more inclusive society involves valuing and respecting the diversity within the disability community and advocating for equal opportunities for all.

How can I be more inclusive of people with hidden disabilities?

  • Educate yourself by learning about different types of hidden disabilities, their impact, and how to be supportive. You can find resources online or consult disability organisations.
  • When someone discloses their hidden disability, listen and believe them. Avoid making assumptions or judgments about their capabilities or experiences.
  • If someone needs support or accommodations, be open to providing them. This could include offering flexible work arrangements, providing assistive technology, or making physical accommodations.
  • Ensure that your workplace or social setting is accessible and inclusive of people with hidden disabilities. This could include physical accessibility, alternative communication methods, or creating a welcoming and understanding culture.
  • Language can be powerful, so avoid using terms or phrases that are derogatory or dismissive of people with disabilities. Use respectful and inclusive language instead.
  • Advocate for disability rights and inclusion in your workplace, community, and society at large.


Being inclusive of people with hidden disabilities is about valuing diversity, respecting individual experiences, and creating a more accessible and equitable society for all. Contact IA Labs today to find out more about how to make your digital content more inclusive.