Invisible disability hate crime is on the increase and many disabled people fear leaving their homes or even using the priority parking spaces and disabled access toilets they are legally entitled to. Invisibly disabled public transport passengers are being accosted for using priority seating and made to feel ashamed for not giving them up when they have every right to use them.
The main aim of this project is to use visual communication to raise awareness of invisible disabilities, and the legitimate right of the invisibly disabled to access priority accommodations under the current symbol, without having to constantly verify they are “disabled enough”. (Kattari, Olzman, & Hanna, 2018, p. 486).
The Department of Works and Pensions figures in March 2018 report that there are 13.9 million disabled people in the United Kingdom. This accounts for nearly one quarter of the population and means at least 1 in 5 of your friends and family may possibly be disabled. (2018) However according to McCann of London; 95% of disabled people do not require a wheelchair and only 1 percent of the world’s population uses one daily. (Foundation, 2000-2020) Conversely, for the last fifty years the pictogram of a wheelchair has been the internationally recognized symbol for disabled people and amenities.
The indistinct inclusiveness of the International Access Symbol (ISA) that was designed around the western ideology of the disabled in 1968; (Liat Ben-Moshe, 2007, p. 497) has reinforced people’s perception of the disabled being exclusively wheelchair users. This belief has been the main instigator in acts of verbal, physical and written aggression towards those who do not appear to be visually disabled using disabled accommodations. For example, the note a woman suffering from fibromyalgia found on her car windscreen after parking legally with her blue badge that read; ‘Being fat and ugly doesn’t count as disabled – park elsewhere’. (The Telegraph, 2015) The ISA did not then and does not now comprehensively represent all disabilities; conversely questions in parliament on its shortcomings (Chamber, 2019) and a two-year campaign to redesign the symbol has failed to come up with a workable solution so undoubtedly this defective mark will be with us for another fifty years.
Section six of ‘The Equality Act 2010’ states, “You are disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.” (Gov.uk, 2018) It does not differentiate between visible and invisible disabilities. Nonetheless people with invisible disabilities are often subject to negative “ableist assumptions” when utilising disabled services such as parking spaces and priority seats on public transport. (Invisible Disability Project, 2018)
U DON’T EVEN
Copy of note left on invisibly disabled persons car.
A prominent ableist assumption is that you are not ‘really’ disabled unless the disability is visible, especially through an assistive device.
However, many people who have a mobility impairment do not use wheelchairs.
The misconception is strengthened by a symbol of access showing a wheelchair. It creates a common problem for disabled people who do not use a chair and who are policed when they park in accessible parking marked by the International Access Symbol (ISA) to ensure that they are indeed ‘sufficiently’ disabled to claim the benefit.
Liat Ben-Moshe & Justin J.W. Powell (2007) Sign of our times?
Revis(it)ing the International Symbol of Access, Disability & Society, 22:5, 489-505,
STOP, LOOK – TH!NK D!SABLED
There are 14 Million disabled people in the UK
This equates to 22% of the population
Which means 1 in 5 People in the UK are disabled
However, 80% of disabilities are invisible
So next time you see someone access priority accommodations:-
STOP – Before you judge
LOOK – Again at the person
TH!NK D!SABLED – Could they be invisibly disabled
Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this, this includes exemption cards. No person needs to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about their reason for not wearing a face covering.
Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.
This is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.
My daughter Victoria has Ulcerative Colitis, in 2013 at the age of eighteen she had lifesaving surgery to remove her large bowl and a stoma formed. This means she now wears an ileostomy bag to collect her excrement; an invisible disability that entitles her to use public disabled toilets and priority parking. Yet even with the new toilet signs designed by The Crohn’s & Colitis Organisation (Crohn’s & Colitis UK, 2017) that state not all disabilities are visible; she is often subjected to judgmental stares, rude comments and upsetting challenges as to why a young healthy-looking woman is using a disabled toilet. Victoria is currently recovering from her third operation in 7 years to remove infected bowel and reform her stoma. Her stomach is a map of surgical scars and old stoma sites; but she still has Crohn’s; it is not a disease you can be cured from and it may eventually kill her.
During my research I came across the term ‘microaggression’, “A comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.” (Merriam-Webster, 2020) Invisibly disabled blue badge users are often subjected to microaggressions in the form of ‘Nasty Notes’ that they find on their cars after parking lawfully in disabled parking bays; indicating and often with explicit language that they are not genuinely disabled. Further investigation revealed a proliferation of these notes across the civilized world along with numerous social media ‘shaming’ of the ‘parking warriors’ that left the notes. After gathering 44 of these missives I presented their ‘post-it’ rantings as ‘full-page’ documents that show the atrocious ignorance of the individuals behind them. It is this ignorance that I next decided to explore; gathering qualitative information from campaigns like the ‘Invisible Disability Project’ (Disability, 2020) and the latest quantitative data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2020); I considered how to disseminate this evidence visually in a way that would achieve my aim of raising awareness of invisible disabilities.
Shame you cannot read them on this platform
Access to a disabled toilet is not a privilege it is a necessity!
Under the current covid guidelines many public toilets have been closed, however the majority of disabled access toilets have been left open for use.
This unfortunately means non-disabled people are queuing for disabled accessible toilets and denying those who legitimately require these toilets due to disability access when they most need it.
It also means that these toilets are being overused and not kept clean putting those who are the most vulnerable, I.e. the disabled at greater risk of infection.
I have several invisible disabilities; however, I also suffer from osteoarthritis in both my knees and use a walking stick for support. This visible ‘cane’ allows me to be recognized as disabled and access disability priorities for most of the time without question; it gives me a ‘get out of jail free card.’ Nonetheless I have been judged on occasion for not being disabled enough; I have been told “A walking stick does not make me disabled!” This project however is not just for me but for all invisibly disabled people who have been subjected to microaggressions from ignorant and ableist individuals.
In 2019 the government extended the Blue Badge parking scheme to include many invisible disabilities that previously were not recognized.
Unfortunately, this means they will have to run the gauntlet of judgmental parking warriors who will challenge their right to priority parking spaces verbally and or through ‘Nasty Notes’ left on their cars because they ‘don’t look disabled’.
Many invisibly disabled drivers have been hitting back with their own words, in the form of stickers on their cars, these are some of the examples.