International day of Persons with Disabilities


For people with disabilities, the fear around the stigma attached to being disabled in some way meant people hid their condition, not revealing it at work or socially. Not being stereotyped or labelled and discriminated against was and remains at the heart of this – and it is this that the United Nations are seeking to counter in the marking of the 3rd of December as International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). We need to be mindful of the words we chose and our attitudes, playing our part in normalising the inclusion of people living with disability.

South Africa celebrates National Disability Rights Awareness Month annually between 3 November and 3 December, a good opportunity to ensure we advance understanding and empathy around this important issue.

A disability is the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination. A disability may be present from birth or occur during a person’s lifetime. Anyone who has a long term or recurring illness, injury, or condition that restricts the way that they live their life, is likely living with a disability.

Some disabilities, like mental health disorders, chronic pain, and fatigue, are invisible – but that does not make them any less devastating to someone’s quality of life.

What is a non-visible disability?
A non-visible disability is a health condition that is not immediately obvious, which can make it difficult for people with non-visible disabilities to access what they need. They are also not always what we might expect.

Why words matter
Disabled people identify in diverse ways and there are several ways of talking about non-visible disabilities. People with disabilities that are not obvious prefer the phrase ‘non-visible’ to ‘invisible’ or “hidden.” This is because the word ‘invisible’ can erase the legitimacy of the disability or imply the disability does not exist and ‘hidden’ can imply a person is purposefully hiding their disability.

While non-visible disabilities cannot be seen, it does not mean it does not exist or that it does not have potentially severe implications for the way in which someone lives their life. Non-visible disabilities are named this way because you cannot always easily see the nature of the disability. Some people with non-visible disabilities might use mobility aids, whereas others will not. Some are linked to a chronic disease and are dynamic. In other words, they change, and a person’s abilities and needs are different from day to day as their bodies are dealing with the condition. As examples, it may be that they have fluctuating energy levels, or mobility, which can affect their ability to function consistently. Managing lifestyle choices and medication responsibly will also directly impact a person’s ability to function.

Which disabilities are non-visible?

Daily life can look different for people with non-visible disabilities and their experiences vary considerably. Non-visible disabilities include a wide range of disabilities. These are not limited to, but may include:

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It is best not to assume what kind of support someone might need, but rather be open to the needs of disabled people as they express them.

How should I act towards people with non-visible disabilities?

People with non-visible disabilities want to be treated with respect and as individuals – just like people with visible disabilities and everyone else. They do not wish to be regarded as less-than but rather treated with the understanding, empathy and support that will enable them both in life and at work.

Disability Awareness offers an opportunity for us all to address stigma and stereotypes, to remove barriers and improve the quality of life of people with disabilities through healthier attitudes and concrete positive action.

Meet Brendon Mullen – our PnS ambassador for people living with disability. He has generously shared his story in the hope that those who might be reluctant to share their disability status realise how helpful it can be to speak up and reach out.


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Posted by:Disability Unit, Posted on:17 December 2020 – Categories:Raising Awareness

Living with Non-Visible Disabilities – The Disability Unit (

Disability Rights Awareness Month 2022 | South African Government (

How to Celebrate International Day of Disabled Persons 2022 (