Raising awareness of invisible disabilities

Last year, Asda put up signs in 421 UK stores to raise awareness of invisible disabilities. The signs, placed on accessible toilet doors, inform customers that not every disability is visible.  

Knowing how important it is to change public perception and break down stereotype, we developed an interactive educational programme using our own people, to highlight how ambiguous disability can be. At the start, viewers are asked to select the people they think has a disability, which isn't apparent at all.

Here, one of the stars of the programme - Natasja – reveals her invisible disability, and the impact it’s had on her life.

Diagnosed with fibromyalgia

Before I joined Nationwide, I was a Project Manager for British Airways (BA), which is when I started to experience severe pains in my neck and shoulders. I initially attributed this to stress, but after the pain didn’t subside, and it spread to my arms and hands, I decided to seek medical advice.

Diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, I had an operation, but afterwards, to great disappointment the chronic pain hadn’t gone. Even worse, it had now spread to my legs, feet and toes. After speaking to a pain consultant my friend recommended, I was then diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

“ Anyone can become disabled at any point in their life, and will need support. I wasn’t born with a disability. ”

It was something that happened to me 15 years ago, and you go through a bit of a grieving process at first because your life will never be the same again. For example, I used to be in the gym 5 times a week, and now I can’t do that anymore.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes widespread pain, chronic fatigue and muscle stiffness. Symptoms like these are considered subjective as they can’t be determined or measured by tests, and as there isn’t a clear known cause for the fibromyalgia, it’s often misdiagnosed.  What’s more, as it’s not obvious when someone is suffering from the condition, they’re not seen as being disabled.

Managing fibromyalgia at work

Besides working from home two days a week, Natasja uses specialist equipment that has been provided for her.

“ Now when my hands, fingers, arms and even fingernails are very sore, I use Dragon - a software package that allows me to dictate and automatically writes for me instead of typing. ”

Educating others about disabilities    

When I started at Nationwide, I looked for networks to join to help support others about their disabilities, and to raise awareness, so I could give back some of the support I’d been given. I’d learnt not to be scared and to get out there and be open.

I became part of the disability employee network group – Enable (add link to EDI networks) - and after volunteering for filming for “The Big Event”, I was approached about being one of the hosts for our interactive educational programme on disabilities. I am now hoping that people don’t just click through it, that they take a genuine interest in it, and work through the material.

“ The key message is that it’s not just about ticking boxes, it’s about making disability more inclusive and accessible in our society. ”

Share your views

If you, or anyone you know suffers from any type of invisible disability and you feel comfortable sharing your experiences with us (good or bad), then we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below, or join us on social media, and don’t forget to use #InvisibleDisabilities.

This year, World Fibromyalgia Awareness Day took place on the 12th May.