How technology can help if you have an unseen disability

Alex Barker answering the AbilityNet helplineI’m physically disabled. I don’t have all my fingers or toes, and I have an unusual walking style. My facial muscles are also affected. So I have a visible disability, and on the whole, people can see that I’m disabled and make allowances for me.

However, there are lots of disabling conditions that aren’t visible. This causes problems because many people don’t understand that having a non-visible condition can be just as challenging to live with as a visible condition.

Invisible conditions that can affect everyday life include autism, Aspergers, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, and traumatic brain injuries.

It is hard to put figures on how many people have an invisible illness, but according to the NHS, 250,000 people in the UK have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. That number roughly equates to the population of Southampton.

FAQs about hidden disabilities and computing

A computer can certainly help people who have invisible illnesses. Here are some of our often asked questions:

1. I have real difficulties reading text as I get tired quickly. What can I do to help myself?

Lots of people find it easier to read text in specific colours. So, for example, people might discover navy blue as an easier colour to read than the standard black. You can alter these settings with a few mouse clicks to make the text easier to read. So it’s easy to have text read out to you that is easy to sort out.

Applications such as Natural Reader are worth looking at and can save you lots of problems.

2. I have a lot of anxiety issues and need help with remembering important appointments. Can you help?

We’re all living busy lives. There are plenty of apps that can help you set reminders or manage appointments. For example, Google Calendar works across macOS, Windows, iOS ad Android. These blogs include more on memory and appointment apps:

3. I have real difficulties sometimes in trying to organise my thoughts. Can a computer help me?

Yes, it can! Mind mapping software can help you to organise your thoughts. It allows you to note down what you need to do to get a piece of work done. website defines Mindmapping as “a highly effective way of getting information in and out of your brain - it is a creative and logical means of note-taking and note-making that literally “maps out” your ideas.”

There are many options that work on all sorts of computers, tablets and smartphones, including some that are free - take a look at this recent round up to see the options and how to decide between them.

Case study: Help with chronic fatigue syndrome

Jenny used to have a high powered job but then she developed chronic fatigue syndrome and left her job.  Now she works as a volunteer but sometimes she gets a bit muddled about the tasks she has to do. She says that she experiences “brain fog”. One of her fellow volunteers had had support from AbilityNet in the past and suggested Jenny should call us.

Jenny is very creative but finds it hard to work through tasks so our Advice and Information Officer also suggested using a mind mapping package such as Mindmeister. This software will help her make more sense of all the useful ideas she has and enable her to work through them in a more structured manner. We also mentioned that we had a network of over 250 volunteers who could come and help her with her organisation.

 One of our friendly volunteers went out to help her and they explored how using specific software might help her.  They looked at software such as Google Calendar which means that she can manage her diary, both on her desktop computer and on her smartphone. 

Jenny is very impressed with the software that she now uses.  It makes her feel far more confident when doing her volunteer work and she feels that she would like to go back into paid work and use the skills she has gained as a volunteer.

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of services to help disabled people and older people.

  • Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545 and our friendly, knowledgeable staff will offer one-to-one help.
  • If you are at work your employer has a responsibility to make Reasonable Adjustments which include helping you with invisible illnesses. Find out more about how we help disabled in the workplace.
  • Arrange a home visit from one of our amazing AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
  • My Computer My Way is our free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.