Invisible Disabilities

Thinking about accessibility

When designing online classes or adding online components to any class, we are asked to consider  whether the material is accessible for students with disabilities. When we think about students who have disabilities we often think about students who may be blind or have low vision or those who may be hard of hearing.  Videos, images, and audio often become the prime target of accessibility tests and these questions are asked:

  • Do videos include closed captions (done by a human being not just a computer)?
  • Do all images include meaningful alt tags so that those who cannot see images can read the text of the alt tag or have it read for them by a screen reader?
  • Do audio files include written transcripts?

But what else do we need to do for students with invisible disabilities? First, it’s important to know what invisible disabilities are. 

An introduction to Invisible Disabilities

Invisible Disabilities is an umbrella term that captures a whole spectrum of hidden disabilities or challenges that are primarily neurological in nature. from Disabled World: Invisible Disabilities Information

To read more about what may constitute an invisible disability, please check the lists at the above site. Included as invisible disabilities are ADHD, autism, brain injuries, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and many more conditions.

At a webinar, Understanding Invisible Disabilities and What this Means for Online Education from the Online Learning Consortium one important take-away is

Invisible disabilities are the most common type of disability among college students. And what we’re going to find is, this is our fastest-growing percentile in terms of disability services across campuses. 10% of people in the United States have a medical condition that could be termed invisible disability. And lastly, we’re looking at the majority of these individuals having a chronic medical condition, an illness, that’s invisible.

Here’s an interesting (18:45 min.) video showing numerous students with invisible disabilities. Most of the situations are found in face-to-face classrooms, but are useful for all instructors.

Invisible Disabilities Postsecondary Education video



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