Students learn about invisible disabilities at CSU panel discussion

Accessibility Justice Collective strives to champion campus accessibility at CapU

Jessica Lio // Online Editor

In recognition of Invisible Disabilities Week, the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) partnered with the North Shore Disability Resource Centre to host a panel discussion about invisible disabilities on Oct.19.

The phrase “invisible disability” is often described as an umbrella term for a range of physical or mental conditions that can have debilitating symptoms for those who are living with them, but are not immediately apparent to people observing from the outside.

“We wanted to have an event to bring awareness and to understand those who are struggling with invisible disabilities,” said Andrew Dillman, CSU accessibility justice coordinator, who organized the event and spoke on the panel. Dillman was joined by two other speakers, Lisa Anderson-Kellett and Ryan Ollis, who shared insight on their personal experiences with deafness and deaf-blindness. The panel was also the first on-campus event of the year which featured American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation.

Their conversation touched on the social and cultural barriers to interacting with other people, the types of accommodations used to counteract the limits of invisible disabilities and the communities that have grown around supporting people with disabilities. The panelists also reflected on how to maintain a positive outlook despite living with invisible disabilities.

Among an extensive list of invisible disabilities are chronic pain or fatigue, fibromyalgia, visual or auditory disabilities, mental illness, epilepsy, lupus, Crohn’s and Lyme disease, to name a few. While symptoms of these conditions could impair or limit a person’s day-to-day activities and cause debilitating pain or discomfort, the social implications can often be just as intrusive.

Our society is much less attuned to accommodating those with invisible disabilities than we may be to people who are visibly disabled or use aids such as wheelchairs or walking canes. In classrooms, public spaces and particularly in the workplace, people with invisible disabilities still face discrimination or hostility because they don’t “look sick”, despite labour laws in place that are meant to make workplaces equitable for people with all types of disabilities.

The eye-opening panel brought a new perspective to some students who will aim to have more empathy about the struggles of people living with invisible disabilities.

“These are issues that affect everybody. It’s kind of a universal design – if you make something accessible for some people, it works out being better for everybody,” said Dillman, encouraging students to get involved and engage with the accessibility justice collective.

Currently, the collective is gearing up for Destress Week, a popular campus-wide event featuring therapy dogs and activities aimed at helping students cope with stress during the last week of November.

Dillman is also a proponent of bringing ASL courses to Capilano University, which would allow students to earn credits for learning to communicate in sign language. If adopted, this would put CapU on the map with a number of lower-mainland institutions offering credit courses in ASL training, including Douglas College, University of British Columbia and Vancouver Community College.

“I think we do great [at CapU], but there’s definitely more we could do and I’d like us to keep moving forward and be leaders in campus accessibility,” said Dillman.

To learn more about the accessibility justice collective and get involved, visit their Facebook page “CSU Accessibility Justice Collective” or contact

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