Understanding the nature of hidden mobility disabilities is key to being able to remove barriers to full participation. The 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states in its Preamble that “disability is an evolving concept and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” It further emphasizes the diversity of experience of persons with disabilities.
Hidden mobility disabilities (HMD) are part of that diversity – a part that has been invisible up to now. Research surveys and policy directives have assumed that “mobility disability” is equivalent to mobility through the use of mobility aids such as wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers.
In actuality, the barriers for hidden mobility disabilities are different than those for persons with visible mobility disabilities. While those who regularly use wheelchairs or scooters are concerned about maneuverability, those with hidden mobility disabilities are concerned with distance and time standing. The HMD Fact Sheet provides an overview of what we know about the lived experience of those with hidden mobility disabilities.
In addition to recognizing what constitute barriers and educating the public, persons with hidden mobility disabilities often have their own internalized biases to examine. When confronted with persons who cannot walk at all, it is easy to feel guilty about asking for help when one can walk a bit. Persons with hidden mobility disabilities often find themselves in situations where they are being expected or pressured to walk further than they can, or stand too long, without experiencing severe pain or other health consequences. It takes courage to say to an able-bodied person, “No, I won’t.”