A founder of a Facebook support group is advocating for greater understanding and awareness of hidden disabilities on the island.
The group, ‘Disabilities and Mental Health Isle of Man’, was set up in 2021 as ‘a safe place where Manx residents can talk openly about their disabilities without judgement’.
Alicia Corlett hopes the group can shed light on the daily issues faced by people with hidden disabilities.
She said: “I do my best to try to raise awareness of hidden disabilities.
“I’m a huge supporter of the Sunflower Cords program and recently provided free Sunflower Cords to many members of our Facebook groups.”
According to the Hidden Disabilities website, the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower was conceived and launched in 2016, when London Gatwick Airport asked “How can we identify that one of our passengers may have a non-visible disability?”.
They created a simple sunflower design on a green background for a lanyard – a subtle but visible sign to let airport staff identify that the wearer (or someone with them) may need assistance, additional time or assistance to move around the airport.
The success of Hidden Disabilities Sunflower and the positive response it has received has increased awareness of the challenges adults and children with hidden disabilities may face.
Worldwide, one in seven people live with a disability. Of these, 80% are invisible.
Hidden disabilities include (but are not limited to): autism, Asperger’s syndrome, dementia, mental health issues, speech or visual impairment or hearing loss.
They also include respiratory and chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, chronic pain and sleep disturbances when they have a significant impact on daily life.
Some people with hidden disabilities have service dogs or other supports in place.
Miss Corlett has had various encounters with people who are unaware that her dog, Wilfred, is a service dog.
She said: ‘I have a seizure disorder called PNES (psychogenic non-epileptic seizures) and I also have autism.
“Personally, I was told things that I found very upsetting.
“I have a seizure alert/assistance dog and recently had a woman come up to me while I was at Deals yelling at me that dogs are not allowed.
“I politely explained that my dog is a service dog and I pointed to her service dog vest and she replied ‘but you don’t look disabled, what does not go with you”.
“Another woman came to see me at Tesco while my dog stood quietly by my side. She pointed to my service dog and said “what is that thing doing here” and when I explained again that he was a service dog she said “you don’t you don’t need an assistance dog, you can walk”.
“This sort of thing just goes to show that there needs to be more education and awareness on the island about both hidden disabilities and service dogs.”