Medical Research

The Case for Bringing ‘Invisible Disabilities’ ID Badges to the United States

The Far East has discovered a far-out solution for people with hidden or “invisible” disabilities who are often suspected of abusing handicap parking spaces and seating on public transportation. It’s an interesting idea, but would in work in the U.S.?

A movement in Japan which started eleven years ago is beginning to catch on among people who live with what are known as “invisible disabilities” to increase awareness and help them with the accessibility issues they often face.

Handicap Seating Sign on Train in Japan

People in Japan who have physical disabilities that are not visible to the naked eye have begun to wear ribbon-shaped badges to advertise their conditions. The ribbons can be worn by people who have such disabilities as internal heart conditions or, possibly, disabilities like autism, These people are usually registered as having disabilities, and they are now seeing the badges as important tools that indicate they are entitled to handicap rights or they may need help.

Nobuyo Shirai, for example, suffers from a serious heart condition and often gets dirty looks when she boards a train and sits in a seat designated for passengers with disabilities. The badge helps in this area, making sure that people know she is not being insensitive—she’s one of the people for whom such seats are designated.

Handicap Seating on a Subway in Japan

While the movement is catching on in Japan, winning recognition across the nation and helping to build awareness of these invisible disabilities, the idea might have a difficult time being accepted and used in the United States, where people are hyper-aware of segregation and discrimination. Many people with disabilities may not want to advertise their conditions, viewing the badges as a sort of “scarlet letter” that marks them as different.

On the other hand, the badges are ribbon-shaped, which is canny, especially for the West, where ribbon-shaped stickers, magnets, and badges are everywhere to show support for causes from the troops overseas to autism to breast cancer. The ribbon symbol is often associated with pride in whatever it advertises, and the shape alone may help achieve the badge’s purpose.

The Badge Used in Japan by People with Invisible Disabilities

The badge was created by Japanese author Sarasa Ono, who incorporated the ‘heart plus’ logo from Shirai’s non-profit organization, to shine a light on invisible, internal ailments, put an end to disapproving glances, encourage discussion and get people the help they may need. The badges are not designed to set people with disabilities apart, but to increase awareness and allow them to get the occasional help they might need in situations where their conditions could prove an impediment.

“People need courage to talk about their own impediments,” Ono says of the badge. “I hope they don’t feel alone, because everyone with a badge is in the same situation.” How do you think the idea of badges for people with invisible disabilities would play in the USA?


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