As Ontarians continue physical distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, essential services are offering hours of service especially for seniors and customers with disabilities. During these times, only customers who are seniors or who have disabilities are allowed to come into stores. As a result, store staff must understand that they cannot always tell by looking at a person whether or not that person has a disability. The term “disability” often brings to mind visible disabilities. In other words, staff can tell that a customer has a disability if they use an assistive device or a service animal. However, many people with disabilities do not use assistive devices or service animals. Instead, their disabilities are invisible. Nonetheless, providers must offer accessible service to customers with invisible disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Customers with Invisible Disabilities in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Types of Invisible Disabilities
There are many types of invisible disabilities. For example, invisible physical disabilities may affect people’s:
- Coordination skills
- Motor skills
- Energy level
- Pain level
- Ability to walk or stand for long periods of time
Customers with invisible physical disabilities may have conditions such as:
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic pain
- Heart or lung conditions
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Neuropathy (reduced sense of touch)
Alternatively, other invisible disabilities affect how people communicate. For instance, people with communication disabilities may be deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing. People may also have speech impairments, stutters, or voice disorders.
Moreover, other invisible disabilities are neurological. They impact people’s learning or their mental well-being, in areas such as:
- Ability to read, write, or calculate
- Ability to understand or process verbal information
- Short-term memory
- Thought processes, moods, or behaviours
- Social skills
- Ability to cope with stress
Customers with invisible neurological disabilities may have conditions such as:
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Hyperactivity Disorder (HD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Brain injury
- Intellectual disabilities, such as Down Syndrome
- Learning disabilities, such as dyslexia
- Mental health challenges, such as depression
Furthermore, some customers will have one disability while others will have more than one.
Providers need to understand that customers with invisible disabilities need accessible service, even though their disabilities are not obvious. For instance, customers who do not look disabled may ask for accessible parking or for a staff member to read something aloud. These customers may not use wheelchairs or white canes. Instead, they have invisible disabilities that affect the distance they can walk or their ability to process written information.
Service providers may still have questions about what to do when a customer explains that they have an invisible disability. Our next article will offer some best practices for serving customers with invisible disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic.