Equality and Justice
For People With Disabilities

Visibility for “invisible” illnesses

Published by on September 25, 2019

Visibility for “invisible” illnesses

Angel Li, University of Ottawa Law Student, August 2019


An invisible illness can be expressed through chronic fatigue, dizziness or pain; cognitive dysfunction, sleep disorder, neurological/spinal disorder, mental illness, and visual/auditory impairment. Severe allergies, diabetes or autoimmune disorders (ie. Lupus, Lyme Disease, etc) are also examples of invisible illnesses. An invisible illness can affect anyone regardless of age, racial or sexual characteristics, and the first step to addressing the issue is to recognize and to believe that those symptoms deserve attention.

It is important to de-stigmatize invisible illnesses by creating a dialogue between those who live with these illnesses and those looking to support and advocate for increasingly barrier-free environments. Increased awareness and mindfulness of such issues can also allow individuals to get assistance in a timely manner, as we create a safe environment to seek assistance for personal health issues where necessary.

Something to look out for as we strive to promote awareness for invisible illnesses is the Accessible Canada Act (or Bill C-81) that is expected to come into force in the Fall of 2019. Although this Act does not specify the inclusion of “invisible illnesses”, this piece of legislation seeks to remove “barriers”; namely anything that can be said to hinder the “full and equal participation” of disabled people in Canadian society by setting accessibility standards for federal organizations, agencies, and service providers. As such, this broad definition of “barriers” could be seen to allow for a more inclusive interpretation of accessibility needs. 

The Act also provides for a complaint process to the Accessibility Commissioner who is responsible for inspecting organizations and enforcing compliance with the policy, with fines of up to $250k for violating it. For many, this is seen as a promising step towards creating dialogue and promoting visibility for the disabled community and for those with “hidden” illnesses. However, how it works in practice will still depend on the community to use and generate feedback on the mechanisms proposed by the Act. 

As a group that closely follows and has been consulted in the creation of the Act, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), works to provide insight into the dialogue between the community and policy-makers. Those interested are welcome to consult the CCD for updated commentary and feedback from the community regarding the Act.

Suffering from an invisible illness can be isolating and it is important to observe and respect what an individual may need. Additional resources can be found below:

Click here for an official Summary of the Act (Bill C-81) with ASL viewing options. 

Check out the workshops offered by Living Healthy Champlain on managing chronic pain.