Students Raising Awareness of Invisible Disabilities

Published on: 2011/04/04 - in Releases

Every day, members of the Queen’s community struggle with physical illnesses that aren’t immediately visible to those around them.

Queen’s InvisAbilities, a student group on campus, is working to establish a support network for those at Queen’s who suffer from chronic physical illnesses that are not obvious to the outside world, while also making the community aware that these disabilities do exist.

Diagnosed with hip dysplasia in 2008 and undifferentiated connective tissue disease in 2010, Julie Harmgardt (ArtSci ’12) is the founder and chair of Queen’s InvisAbilities.

“To be honest, the idea for Queen’s InvisAbilities was born out of my own personal frustration,” she explains. “None of my friends were very receptive to the idea that someone so young, who had previously been so healthy, could possibly be that sick.”

Ms Harmgardt says that comments like “You’re too young to be sick”, “It’ll just get better” and “You don’t look sick” are still common expressions when it comes to invisible illnesses. As a result, the club’s three main goals are advocacy, education and support.

Queen’s InvisAbilities has been in operation for two years and has more than 50 members. The club offers a variety of activities to suit everyone’s needs and interests. Anyone who suffers from an invisible chronic illness, knows someone with a chronic illness, or simply wants to learn more is encouraged to get involved. Other invisible illnesses include arthritis, chronic migraines, fibromyalgia, lupus, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

“Raising awareness of invisible disabilities is important because it affects so many people’s lives,” says Ms Harmgardt. “People don’t make judgments and assumptions about those with invisible disabilities intentionally. It all stems from lack of awareness and education about invisible illnesses.”

Members have the opportunity to learn more from a lending library, guest speakers, awareness campaigns and discussion groups. Queen’s InvisAbilities also runs a buddy program that pairs people up based on a questionnaire designed to members’ specific needs. Buddy pairings involve an exchange between students with similar conditions, allowing a support network to develop.

For more information about Queen’s InvisAbilities visit the website or contact Julie Harmgardt at


Release and photo source: Queen’s University News Centre

Photo:  Queen’s InvisAbilities members (left to right) Nina Winwood, Justine Fehr, Julie Harmgardt, and Lauren Reid pose with Dr. Jennifer Rae, who was the guest speaker at the group’s recent “You Don’t Look Sick!” event.