It is estimated that 15% of the population have a disability. Some are visible, some invisible/hidden.
In Guernsey there are an estimated 13,000, of which 4000 experience significant difficulties in their daily lives. A large proportion of these will not be outwardly disabled.
What on earth is an invisible disability?
An invisible, or hidden, disability is one that is not overtly apparent to the general public. Maybe if you watch someone closely you will notice them struggling to navigate around a bar, or wincing in pain, yet there's no symbols to tell the world that they have a disability.
One of my specialisms is the stigma of visual impairment, largely because this was one of the topics of my research whilst at University. Another reason I have an interest in visual impairment is because I myself have a degenerative retinal condition that has resulted in my being classified as significantly sight impaired. I rarely use a cane and therefore if I do bump into something or someone many will assume I am clumsy, not looking where I am going, or something else.
From my research into visual impairment I discovered that many VIPs (visually impaired persons) experience stigma and have also experienced negative responses from members of the public, been the victims of abuse and violence, and are cautious about identifying themselves as blind due to the rhetoric towards the disabled as being benefit scroungers. The UN also discusses how those with disabilities are more likely to experience violence than those without.
There is, however, an interesting finding from my research. That was that the visually impaired, whilst they do experience actual stigma and discrimination, their anticipation of experiencing stigma and discrimination is higher than the actual experience. This same phenomena has been found in people with breast cancer too who envisage stigma following a mastectomy to be worse than it really is. In breast cancer this can result in women opting not to have potentially life saving surgery due to the fear of the stigma they will experience afterwards.
Therefore, our own minds are worse than the reality. Many do not allow themselves to experience that reality due to their perceptions of it being worse. Often by stopping our struggles with what our mind is telling us, we can continue with life in spite of the disability that we have.
It can be difficult for members of the public to comprehend hidden disabilities. An example is someone using a white cane/long cane, walks onto a bus or a tube if in London. They find a seat, maybe someone gives their disabled seat or standard seat up for the person. Next thing the person pulls out their iphone, or a book, and starts reading. This looks as though they are faking it. And many have been accused of doing so in the past. The thing is, are they faking it? No. Nobody uses a long cane for fun. A condition like mine, Retinitis Pigmentosa, results in the periphery of my vision deminishing so I have a small area of vision in the centre. I cannot see anyone stood or sat next to me unless I look directly at them. Similarly I cannot see small children in front of me, dogs, and obstacles such as wet floor signs. I can, however, use the little remaining vision I have to read. My condition affects approximately 1 in 4000 people and there are many conditions like it. We don't fit the stereotype of a disabled person as we have some abilities. With visual impairment you can be 'legally blind' yet have some useful vision. It is a difficult thing to get your head around.
What help is there for people with disabilities?
In Guernsey there are not as many avenues of support as in the UK. There's also no financial benefit to having a disability. There's no real financial support available for the disabled in Guernsey.
The Guernsey Disability Alliance has a links page full of member organisations.
I also specialise in helping people to come to terms with their disability and find a way forward with their lives. If you want to find out more, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I'm a doctor of psychology, born in Guernsey, educated at a tertiary level in Bristol, Bath, and London. Having worked and trained with some of the leading Health Psychologists in the UK, and having a passion about how Health Psychology can truly benefit many people, I now want to spread the word, as well as offer consultations to people wanting to make changes in their lives.