December 3rd was International Day of People with Disabilities, and this year the focus was on ‘not all disabilities are visible.’

According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that more than 1 billion people worldwide are living with some form a disability, 450 million people live with a mental or neurological condition, a further 69 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury every year, and one in 160 children are identified as on the autism spectrum.

Not all disabilities are visible

Many of these conditions lack the surface level visibility of physical disabilities and therefore, may be hard to understand for family, friends, colleagues, and also for the person coming to terms with their condition. In terms of brain injury Dr Holly Hurn, Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation clinical psychologist, said: “Loss of identity can be a significant part of a neurological injury – often people find themselves dependent on somebody else for the first time since childhood. They are fearful for the future and their self-confidence crashes.”

“A brain injury can hugely affect how we process the world around us, so someone may be able to walk and talk with no obvious outward disability, but an acquired brain injury can cause hidden disabilities that families and friends may not be expecting.”

This year’s theme is particularly pertinent, as during the current Covid-19 crisis neurological events such as strokes and seizures have all been associated to the virus; as the virus is known to produce the phenomenon known as ‘sticky blood’ which increases the chance of blood clots forming. But also, because this year has been challenging for many people with learning disabilities and autism, with many people struggling with their mental health and the loss of routine and support networks.

To facilitate self-advocacy Learning Disability England and Sunderland People First smashed the metaphorical champagne bottle on their new interactive learning disability self-advocacy map. The site that went live on the 3rd will help people connect and share work, and was inspired by the recent austerity measures that directly affected many groups through lack of funding – and the fact that currently many self-advocacy groups are still increasingly pushed for resources.

To counter this and facilitate networking, this new map will help to promote inter-organisational dialogue between groups and promote working together for shared goals, resources, and partnership on important issues.

Jodie Williams, a self-advocate and Director with Sunderland People First and Vice-Chair of Learning Disability England’s Board of Trustees said: “I am passionate about making sure that people with a learning disability and autistic people have a strong voice and have a good life. I have loved working with Sheffield University as part of the Fellowship Project and sharing how self-advocacy groups across the country do amazing work. I hope that this new self-advocacy map will help to connect and support groups to share this work, especially during these difficult times. We know that we are stronger together.”

Mencap also used this day to showcase learning disability excellence across social media through the work of George, an actor and film critic with a learning disability, who discussed his acting, his dreams, and his pride in his work. This emphasized the difference that people with learning disabilities make every day and how they should not be seen or limited by their learning disability