International Day of Persons with Disability: Removing the Cloak of Invisibility

International Day of Persons With Disability: Removing the Cloak of Invisibility
International Day of Persons With Disability: Removing the Cloak of Invisibility

December 04, 2023 - Kristin DeBellis, PharmD

The word sustainable often evokes imagery of renewable energy or other environmental initiatives. December 3 marks the International Day of Persons With Disabilities (IDPD) and, although it may seem like a non sequitur, the renewal and reuse of an old theme for celebrating the day fits perfectly, both literally and figuratively. In 1992, the United Nations adopted resolution 47/3, inviting world leaders and the private sector to help promote the “dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities,” and each year has been marked by a call for specific action and awareness. This year’s theme, “United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs [sustainable development goals] for, with and by persons with disabilities,” reflects on prior international commitments espoused in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.1 Since the 17 SDGs were adopted in 2015, supported by the five essential pillars of People, Place, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnership, celebrations of this day of inclusion have called attention to the continued need for innovation and development that leaves NO ONE behind.1,2  

The World Health Organization (WHO) pegs the global number of people with disabilities at 1.3 billion, or about 16% of the total population. WHO recognizes the impact of health inequalities, inaccessibility, stigma, and exclusion from education and employment experienced by persons with disabilities. Disparities in the health care system itself are further acknowledged, especially practices that demonstrate a lack of knowledge, negative attitudes, and discrimination.3 And this is where the focus can be sharpened onto developed countries and concerns that may not spring to mind when considering United Nations’ efforts at fostering an inclusive world.   

International Day of Persons With Disability: Removing the Cloak of Invisibility

Within regions that might be viewed as economically advanced, it is important that the health care community realize that disparities still exist. According to the CDC, 26% of adults (~1 in 4) in the US live with a disability, and those aren’t just people navigating mobility impairments. Whereas certain physical challenges may or may not be easily recognized (e.g., hearing or visual impairment), others exist entirely under a cloak of invisibility, affecting thinking, remembering, learning, mental health, and social relationships.4 In a 2020 article published by Forbes, up to 96% of Americans are identified as having an unseen severe disability.5 The Invisible Disabilities® Association defines these as conditions that substantially limit major life activities and notes struggles ranging from full activity levels with occasional well-managed bumps, to difficulties with full-time employment, to requiring dailyliving care.6

As communicators for, representatives and caretakers of, and advocates for individuals with disabilities, it is important to consider how living with an invisible disability affects one’s daily life.  To give some context, think about the roller coaster of experiences a person with a cancer diagnosis or post-traumatic stress disorder may go through over the course of a day, year, or decade. Both may encounter employers or schools unwilling to accommodate days of emotional difficulty or low energy. Will health insurance options or short-/long-term disability coverage assist with the complexities of life’s ups and downs or make them worse? Will the disability unseen by the public at large attract open derision if the person uses accommodations such as early flight boarding or disabled parking? 


An easy first step is to help the invisible become visible. The Sunflower is an international project aimed at encouraging acceptance and understanding through a network of facilities that recognize the visual cue of the sunflower lanyard. The lanyard acts as a visible signal that the bearer is a person with a non-visible disability.7 The Invisible Disabilities Association also offers online support services, merchandise, and information supportive of, and instructive about, those who experience the daily challenges of discrimination and exclusion because their limitations are not easily identifiable.7 The health care community can follow  recommendations outlined by both organizations to help make inclusion for all an achievable and sustainable goal. 

  1. References: 
  2. United Nations. 2023 International Day of Persons With Disabilities. Accessed November 11, 2023. 
  3. United Nations. The 17 goals. Accessed November 11, 2023. 
  4. World Health Organization. Disability. Accessed November 11, 2023. 
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disability and health promotion. Accessed October 21, 2023.  
  6. Morgan P. Invisible disabilities: break down the barriers. March 20, 2020. Forbes. Accessed October 23, 2023.  
  7. Invisible Disability Association. Invisible disability. Accessed October 24, 2023. 
  8. Hidden Disabilities. What is the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower? Accessed November 15, 2023.