The push for a national hidden disability symbol has reached its next step
December 16th, 2021
After a car accident left her with a brain injury, Laura Brydges became increasingly frustrated with the lack of understanding about disabilities that couldn't be seen or heard.
In response, she started a national movement to promote a hidden disability symbol and advocate for policies which remove barriers faced by persons with hidden disabilities.
Tell us what’s been happening with the campaign over the last few months
Laura: We collected enough signatures on a paper petition that my MP, Chandra Arya, read it in the House of Commons in June. But then an election was called, parliament was dissolved, and as a result there was no response to the paper petition.
But now with Brain Injury Toronto and Brain Injury Canada, we've started an e-petition. A week into it we've received over half of the minimum required signatures, which is an amazing response given the time of year and lack of funding.
Chandra Arya will present the petition again when we have enough signatures, and it will then go on record and be assigned to appropriate minister, probably Carla Qualtrough, from which she'll have 45 days to respond.
Laura speaks about the campaign and the petition which has since launched
Explain the petition and the process
Laura: The petition's asking the government of Canada to adopt and promote a national hidden disability symbol, and to lead actions for its international adoption.
We're not asking for a predetermined symbol to be adopted; we're asking the government to try out different ones. Use them as tools to raise awareness about the shared needs of members of hidden disability community and create systemic change.
What do you tell people who still need convincing in the need for a hidden disability symbol?
Laura: I tell them that because hidden disabilities are invisible and silent, there must be a tool for members of hidden disability community to advocate for themselves and their needs.
I was in a car accident in 2005 and ended up with brain injury, chronic pain, a chemical imbalance that led to major depression, memory issues, sleep disturbance, and other issues.
Sometimes people don't understand all this because they can’t see or hear it. They can't see that sometimes I'm overwhelmed and just need people to slow down and speak to me more clearly.
People don't understand because they can't see or hear it
So I developed my own symbol, put it on Facebook, and now I have over 7,000 followers. But it's not just me, there are multiple symbols out there, so the need's there, but I think we should choose 1 symbol so people don't get confused and so we're all standing under the same umbrella.
The International Access Symbol - the 'wheelchair' symbol - shows that symbols can be powerful. But one problem's that disability's now associated with wheelchairs and mobility issues, when disability goes far beyond that. Next to every wheelchair symbol there needs to be a Hidden Disability Symbol.
Next to every wheelchair symbol there needs to be a hidden disability symbol
Members of the hidden disability community are also disproportionally represented in negative interactions with police, human trafficking, homelessness, and unemployment rates. It’s sad, and a lot of it's due to a lack of support.
Canada also doesn’t do research or collect data about people with hidden disability as a group, so we want to start influencing data collection.
What are the next steps in the campaign?
Laura: In the immediate future, we're promoting the petition and asking people to contact their MPs. We're hoping to host a webinar in January to help guide people through this and share materials.
Long-term, we want to get organizations to sign on as allies to movement, to further show the government how important it is to people, and of course for the government to get on board.
Anything else people should know?
Laura: You know someone with a hidden disability, everyone does. It includes bone disease, any disease of the organs, mental health issues, and anything that’s not visible or heard.
Think about those you love and those you know. Please share the petition and sign it.
Show your support by signing the Hidden Disability Symbol petition.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!